Monday, March 27, 2017

Called to Serve: Do Not Censor What the Board Receives

Note: This is No. 11 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.

Max De Pree: "The administrative team should never see themselves as the censors of what the board receives. The administration should be especially careful not to screen out things that may bring pain to the board. Like a good leader, a good board doesn't inflict pain; it bears pain."

Many boards create a culture of trust with a "no surprises" core value. Rule No.1 for CEOs: Never surprise the board. Rule No. 2: Deliver bad news early and often.

De Pree reminds CEOs and senior team members that putting their best foot forward often means putting the bad news forward--not censoring what goes to the board.

Some years back, when coaching a young CEO, I helped his board affirm five annual SMART goals for their CEO (SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-related). Then we created a simple one-page monthly dashboard report with color-coded bullet points on each goal (green, yellow, red).

On the 15th of every month, the CEO emailed the dashboard to the board. One problem though. The CEO was very reluctant to color-code any "progress" report with yellow or red. (And trust me...most of his ambitious goals were not on target.)

It took several weeks, but I finally convinced this young CEO that his board loved him. They were cheering him on. And they wanted to help him.  "All green" sometimes unintentionally communicates to a board, "I have it all under control. I don't  need your help."

CEOs: what message (intentional or unintentional) are you broadcasting to your board?

Boards: do you respond appropriately to bad news--so you create a culture that affirms your CEO for delivering bad news early and often?

Recently, I awarded a Starbucks card to a board member who piped up, "You's been a while since our board has heard some really good bad news!"

I love Proverbs 29:2 in The Message: When good people run things, everyone is glad, but when the ruler is bad, everyone groans." 

Perhaps a corollary might be, "When good leaders deliver bad news, everyone is glad, but when bad leaders pretend everything is good, everyone groans."

BOARD EXERCISE: How frequently does our CEO deliver bad news? How appropriately does our board respond to bad news?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Called to Serve: What's More Important Than Structure?

Note: This is No. 10 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board

Max De Pree: "Structure is important, but what is much more important--in fact, critical--is the willingness and ability of the people involved to establish and maintain amiable and productive relationships."

Amen! Years back, I remember my shock (and that's not too strong of a word) when two long-serving members of a small board were chatting before the board meeting began. "Remind me again," one board member asked of the other board member, "what company do you work for?"

By then, this small board should have known each other intimately, and as often happens on great boards, they would have become great friends by this time. It wasn't happening.

At another board retreat, a too-busy board member pushed back (no subtlety), on the best practice that knowing the strengths, social style (driving, analytical, amiable, or expressive), and spiritual gifts of each board member would enhance the board's relationships and thereby its productivity.

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld's excellent Harvard Business Review article, "What Makes Great Boards Great," will inspire your board. The author lists all the ill-informed views of board effectiveness and then says this:

“The key isn’t structural, it’s social.”

He adds, “The most involved diligent value-adding boards may or may not follow every recommendation in the good-governance handbook.  What distinguishes exemplary boards is that they are robust, effective social systems."

If your board chair and/or CEO are not relationally focused (the literature says only about half the population is), then appoint a board member who is--to help you ensure that structure doesn't trump relationships.

BOARDROOM EXERCISE: Discuss the theological values that undergird your ministry--and assess if the relational values of the Good News are alive and well in your boardroom and in your 24/7 year-round board culture.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Called to Serve: Death by Committee

Note: This is No. 9 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board. (Click on the title to order the book for every board member.)

Max De Pree: “Be ruthless about terminating a temporary committee when its assignment is completed.”

Where do we start? Oh, my. Power-hungry committees, unnecessary committees, committees that never meet…it appears we’ve successfully raised committee dysfunction to an art form.

So Max De Pree’s insight on terminating temporary committees is a breath of fresh air. When asked to weigh in on the committee bucket, I usually mention three foundational issues:

#1. AFFIRM A GOVERNANCE PHILOSOPHY. Your committee structure must flow from your governance philosophy. If you lean more towards John Carver’s Policy Governance® model, you’ll have fewer committees and they’ll met Carver’s acid test: “In governance process policies, the board commits itself to use committees only when they are necessary to help the board get its job done, never to help the staff with theirs.”

#2. TRUST THE STAFF. Each committee needs a written charter, or statement of purpose—and three to five annual “SMART” goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-related). Some boards in a misguided attempt to increase “board member engagement” (whatever that is!), will often give assignments to committees that should be completed by the staff. Sometimes that indicates the board doesn’t trust the CEO or the staff. Not good!

#3. TRUST THE COMMITTEE. If the board inappropriately rehashes committee reports and recommendations in every board meeting, then you must fix the committee or fix the board! 

De Pree adds this wisdom I’ve never read before:

“My friend Jim BerĂ©, who was a corporate leader, presidential advisor, and worker/advocate for many non-profits, once told me that he would serve only on boards that had hard-working executive committees.”


I’ve observed some committees that stick to their charter, assess their work, and leverage the God-given gifts and strengths of their faithful committee members. When that happens, it’s a Romans 12 practicum in action.

For more resources on conducting effective committee meetings, read Patrick Lencioni’s classic leadership fable, Death by Meeting, and visit the ECFA Knowledge Center.

BOARDROOM EXERCISE: Rate the effectiveness of each committee on a scale of one to five—with five meaning “high performing” and one meaning “no performance at all.” List three next steps to improve our committee structure.

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).