Thursday, September 26, 2019

Are Your Board Members “Listeners” or “Readers”?

If there’s one common whine from CEOs, it’s this: “My board members don’t read the reports I email them.”

Yet some board members also whine: “We don’t hear much from our CEO in between board meetings. He (or she) doesn’t call and we rarely have lunch together. (We posted this discussion several years ago, but it's time for another reminder.)

Here’s help from Peter Drucker (1909 - 2005), the father of modern management. Drucker noted that people are either readers or listeners. And…ditto board members!

In the classic Harvard Business Review article, “Managing Your Boss,” by John J. Gabarro and John P. Kotter, the authors discuss the boss/subordinate relationship—but the insights are equally valuable for board members, board chairs, and CEOs.

They write, “Subordinates can adjust their styles in response to their bosses’ preferred method for receiving information. Peter Drucker divides bosses into ‘listeners’ and ‘readers.’ Some bosses like to get information in report form so they can read and study it. Others work better with information and reports presented in person so they can ask questions. 

“As Drucker points out, the implications are obvious. If your boss is a listener, you brief him or her in person, then follow it up with a memo. If your boss is a reader, you cover important items or proposals in a memo or report, then discuss them.”

So ask each board member—“What’s your preferred method of receiving information? Written report or verbal report?”

I can hear the moans now from CEOs: “You expect me to give verbal reports to half my board if that’s their preferred style of receiving information?”

Calm down. There are options. But the big idea here is that emailing pages and pages of written reports to board members who are “listeners” will not be effective. And phoning or Zoom calling board members with verbal reports will be ineffective if they are “readers.”

With the wide ranges of digital options today, there are solutions. Some CEOs will record a verbal report and email an audio file to the “listeners,” along with the traditional written report. Others will host (and record) a conference call as a nod to the “listeners” on the board. 

Perhaps graciousness and respect means tilting towards what works for board members, not what’s convenient for CEO reporting (or what’s convenient for the CEO’s executive assistant).

In last month's blog about the four social styles, we were reminded about this context for Christ-centered governance from Psalm 139:14, "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made..."

Reminder! Our Creator fashioned the minds and learning styles of our board members. One size doesn’t fit all—and we praise Him for that! So what will you do—moving forward—to bless both the “readers” and the “listeners” on your board?

AND ONE MORE QUESTION: What’s your CEO’s preferred method of receiving information? Is he/she a “listener” or a “reader?”

INSPIRE YOUR BOARD! Inspire your board members to enrich their governance competencies at the ECFA Excellence in Governance Forums (eight cities, Fall 2019). 

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Board Meeting Minutes & The Four Social Styles

I’ve recently had numerous inquiries about board meeting minutes. (You can snooze now or later.) So I’ve been thinking about the four social styles (analytical, driving, amiable, and expressive)—and how each style might perform the duties of board secretary.

But first—a caveat and a short video. While governance gurus share numerous opinions on best practices for writing board meeting minutes, unless your bylaws or Board Policies Manual spell out the details, the board secretary has ample freedom. Click here to view this excellent four-minute video, “How to Record Board Minutes,” by Michael Martin, ECFA’s Executive Vice President. 


THE ANALYTICAL BOARD SECRETARY.  According to the social style wisdom, an analytical is task-oriented and fact-oriented. Minutes from this person will likely be thorough, comprehensive, and detailed. Board members who miss a meeting will read the minutes and have a fairly complete picture of what happened.

“Due to the potential risks involved, the CEO was tasked with getting more facts about Project Twenty and bringing a more complete proposal back to the board which must include contingencies.”

THE DRIVING BOARD SECRETARY. Drivers are action-oriented and goal-driven. Speed is also an important value to the driver. Thus minutes will have a flavor of “just the facts” with little or no commentary. Between “the meeting was called to order” and “meeting adjourned,” the minutes will document board actions, but not much else. 

“We came. We voted. We adjourned.”

THE AMIABLE BOARD SECRETARY. Amiables are relationship-oriented (as opposed to task-oriented) and the minutes will often reflect this style. Amiables, like analyticals, tend to be slower-paced. Affirmations might populate the secretary’s warm commentary. (“The board gave the CFO a round of applause for the clean audit and her faithful service to our ministry.”)

“Thanks to our outstanding CEO, we enjoyed another grace-filled board meeting, accompanied by Mary’s delicious raspberry pie.”

THE EXPRESSIVE BOARD SECRETARY. Expressives are fun to be around (often hilarious), but they rarely agree to serve as board secretary. This style is fast-paced, highly emotive, and people-oriented versus task-oriented. Board minutes will highlight the BHAGs (Big Holy Audacious Goals), big ideas, future events, and parties. If there’s no party planned, the expressive will plan one.

“The bold thinking in the strategic plan presentation was awesome. The Century Campaign could impact millions and millions!”

CAUTION! In addition to understanding the four social styles, even more important is your ability to practice versatility in your relationships. Versatility is the measure of how others view your ability to adapt to different styles and situations. There is no good or bad style (we are all made in the image of God)—and thus there are no preferred board secretary styles (other than your own preference!).

REMINDER! Psalm 139:14 (NIV): “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…”

BOARD DISCUSSION: It is time to refresh your board meeting minutes? Do your minutes accurately capture the board actions? What is your social style: analytical, driving, amiable, or expressive? What is the social style of your current board secretary?

MORE RESOURCES: Visit the “People Bucket” webpage for the book, Mastering the Management Buckets, and download the one-page resource, “Do’s and Don’ts for the Four Social Styles.”

INSPIRE YOUR BOARD! Inspire your board members to enrich their governance competencies at the ECFA Excellence in Governance Forums (eight cities, Fall 2019). 

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Boardroom Lexicon: I, Me, We, Us

What do astronauts, Tour de France cyclists, and great board members have in common?

I’m always looking for governance lessons—and I’ve recently noticed similar phrases—and values—from outer space and the inner circles of cycling teams. We could learn something from them.

This month, our nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. Were you on earth when the Apollo 11 spaceflight reached their destination? It was July 20, 1969 when Commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle on the Moon.

I’ve watched the documentary film, In the Shadow of the Moon, numerous times. (Read my review.) But this one value keeps popping up: We not Me. It was a stunning team effort. Some news reports indicated over 300,000 people had a part in Apollo 11’s success. The astronauts, especially, chose their words carefully: not me, not them, but us and we. “We did it.”

Over the last three weeks, I was up early many mornings to take in the sights, sounds, and heroics of the 2019 Tour de France. Stunning scenery and stunning teamwork! I’m not a cyclist—but I’m captivated by the teamwork and the strategy. So this year, through all 21 stages from Brussels to Paris (July 6-28), I also read the book, Tour de France for Dummies. One team has dominated in recent years (there’s that word again) and the youngest rider ever (just 22) earned the yellow jersey this year, due to the team effort.

So are the values of We and Us alive and well in your boardroom? Or are you on the board to help the CEO with her ministry? Words matter—and you can learn much about the value system of an organization, its CEO, and its board by listening: Lone Ranger Syndrome of the joy of teamwork? 

As Dan Busby thoughtfully observes in our book, More Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom: Effectiveness, Excellence, Elephants! (coming in September from ECFAPress):

“CEOs must pursue God and focus on abiding in Christ. A major warning sign is when a leader places self-interest ahead of the things of God and the needs of the ministry, evidenced in arrogant language and prideful behavior. 
You will often hear a spiritually healthy CEO say,
‘I serve as CEO,’ not ‘I am the CEO,’
—a subtle but profound indicator of their motivation."

BOARD DISCUSSION: At your next board meeting—listen. Does your boardroom lexicon honor God—and promote teamwork and the essence of leveraging everyone’s spiritual giftedness—or does the tone tilt toward Me rather than We?

MORE RESOURCES: Reid Lehman shares wisdom on this issue in his guest blog, “Serve with Humility and Experience God’s Presence: One board chair creates a holy moment for his CEO Search Committee,” based on chapter 9 in Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom: 40 Insights for Better Board Meetings (Second Edition), by Dan Busby and John Pearson.

INSPIRE YOUR BOARD! Inspire your board members to enrich their governance competencies at the ECFA Excellence in Governance Forums (eight cities, Fall 2019). 

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Power of Passion: It’s OK to Say No!

A leader recently told me that while she had said yes to a volunteer opportunity—she should have said NO!

“Looking back now,” she told me, “I realized I had zero passion for the project. I said yes, but that was a big mistake.”

How many times is this scenario inappropriately played out in your boardroom? Recognize anyone here?
• Your board chair asks Chandler to lead the task force. She’s amazingly effective—but has zero passion for this assignment. She says yes—but has no joy in the task.
• Your CEO needs a board member to represent the ministry at a community event. Roberto is a team player and says yes, but procrastinates in his preparation—and it shows. He didn’t bring his A game.
• Suzanne’s social style is “amiable.” She’s a pleaser and said yes to a last-minute request. Her congeniality exceeds her competence. Another bungled assignment.

Hans Finzel writes “When who we are lines up with the role we are in, then we are in a place of passion.” He urges leaders (and I would add, board members) to say yes ONLY when opportunities fall in the “The Passion Zone.”

In describing the passion zone, Finzel asks: How much does “The Leader” circle (gifts, abilities, strengths, personalities, values, calling) overlap with “The Role” circle (followers, culture, responsibilities, activities, situation, history)?

While his book speaks mostly to organizational leaders, savvy board members will find it immediately convicting also. Board members could use a serious does of Finzel’s transparency:
“The number one issue for me was passion.
My heart was no longer engaged in my job—the fire had gone out.
My heart had left the building.”

Click here to read my review of The Power of Passion in Leadership: Lead From Your Heart, Not Just Your Head, by Hans Finzel (just 73 pages).

Here’s the gut check for board members: does your board service (including your ad hoc assignments) leverage your “3 Powerful S’s” (Spiritual Gifts, Strengths, and Social Styles)? If not, your board work will often be a draining experience. That’s not God’s plan!

What should you do?
• Ask a wise and trusted friend if your board service is adding to Kingdom impact and your joy—or detracting from it.
• Say “NO!” when assignments will not align with your giftedness and passion.
• Say “YES!” when assignments bring you joy and others affirm your passion.

Finzel notes Proverbs 4:23 in the NIV: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

BOARD DISCUSSION: Are we asking the right board members to tackle the right assignments? Are we getting an appropriate number of “no” responses—perhaps meaning board members are telling us the truth about what brings them joy?

MORE RESOURCES: Erika Cole shares wisdom on this issue in her guest blog, “Align Board Member Strengths With Committee Assignments,” based on chapter 25 in Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom: 40 Insights for Better Board Meetings (Second Edition), by Dan Busby and John Pearson.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Beware the Emotional Effects of Transition

I posted this blog in 2016, but based on my governance radar, it's time for a rerun! Enjoy and heed!

If your board has term limits, it's likely you say “farewell and thanks” to one, two, or three board members every year. It might surprise you, though, to understand what each of your departing board members are feeling.

In the bestselling book, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, William Bridges writes, “It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions. Change is not the same as transition. Change is situational: the new site, the new boss, the new team roles, the new policy. Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation.”

He adds, "Change is external. Transition is internal."

At a recent board retreat, I challenged board members to pick one major change the organization had negotiated and then to pick one word that described the stage and the feelings that resulted—from their unique perspectives.

Bridges notes that "the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names," and suggests there are three phases of managing a transition: 
   • Ending
   • Neutral Zone
   • New Beginning

The author says it's important for leaders to be alert to the emotions and the psychological impact people experience as they journey through transitions. Perhaps you can reflect on a recent major change you have experienced as a board—and can pinpoint where people are along the journey. According to Bridges, here are the more common emotions in each phase:

   • ENDING: denial, anxiety, shock, confusion, sadness, annoyance/anger, fear, frustration, and cynicism.
   • NEUTRAL ZONE: curiosity, adjustment, exploration, learning.
   • NEW BEGINNING: creative tension, impatience, acceptance, hope or skepticism, relief, excitement, trust, enthusiasm.

One board member at the retreat circled the "sadness" emotion. His board term was ending and he was genuinely sad at the thought of being absent from the table. He spoke warmly of the relationships, the important mission of the organization, and much more.

"Oh, my," I thought. "Other board members often exit with glee—no more meetings, more time for leisure and family, and fewer deadlines. Yet this board member was sad.”

Really—that was wonderful. What a stunning board culture!

By the way, the board did a spectacular job of honoring him and one other departing board member. Well-prepared words. Short thank you videos from staff and clients. Coffee mugs with their top-five strengths from the StrengthsFinder assessment, framed photo collages, and personalized mementos with the organization’s mission statement.

The presentation was poignant and perfect. Oh, my.

The big changes facing your board may be in another realm: CEO succession, program changes, financial crisis, or other challenges. So this is just a reminder that changes produce transitions, and transitions produce emotions—and all of us may be at different levels of moving from the ending, to the neutral zone, to the new beginning.

Note: To go deeper on this subject, read the resource article on Moses, “Getting Them Through the Wilderness,” by William Bridges. Here’s a taste:

“When Pharaoh finally let Moses’ people go, some of them surely thought that the Promised Land was just around the corner. But Moses was not so naive, for he saw that he still had two problems. First, he had to draw a line of no return between the ending and the neutral zone. Second, he had to keep people in the neutral zone long enough for them to be fundamentally changed by the wilderness experience.”

QUESTION: How sensitive are your board members, CEO, and senior team members in recognizing that the decisions you make can trigger a variety of emotions and responses among the staff, volunteers, clients/customers, and donors you serve?

MORE RESOURCES: Al Lopus shares more exit wisdom in his guest blog, "Cut the Cord! Invite Board Members to Exit When They Don’t Live Your Values," based on chapter 31 in Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, by Dan Busby and John Pearson.

Friday, April 5, 2019

The Big Difference Between Micromanaging and Appropriate Questioning

While I’m a big believer in ongoing research, I don’t need a high-priced researcher to answer this question:

What do nonprofit CEOs whine about the most?

Board members who meddle and micromanage.

Now before CEOs cast all the blame on one or more dysfunctional board members, please note that sometimes CEOs and senior staff invite those board members into the weeds—unwittingly. Staff that deliver board reports with TMI (too much information), data-heavy PowerPoints, or  nagging problems—with no recommendations—are often too tempting for some board members: “Everyone—grab a rake and start weeding!”

Warren Bird, ECFA’s  vice president of research and equipping, recently reminded me about Ram Charan’s helpful insights in “How Do We Stop From Micromanaging?” (see chapter 13 in Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask. Read my review here.)

Ram Charan gives these guidelines for appropriate questions in the boardroom:
 “The difference between micromanaging and appropriate questioning is not always a bright line. What really defines micromanaging is not whether a director [board member] is digging into details. It’s really a question of which details and for what purpose.”

• “Is the director making a small point, like nit-picking expenses? Or is the director drilling down into the details that help reveal a higher-level issue—detecting a structural change, getting at the root cause of a problem, or questioning the effectiveness of a process?”

“Asking questions of an operating nature is not in itself micromanaging, as long as the questions lead to insights about issues like strategy, performance, major investment decisions, key personnel, the choice of goals, or risk assessment.”

Charan also notes that “not all directors are self-aware.” So when Into-the-Weeds Syndrome is alive and dysfunctional in your boardroom—share this wisdom from Ram Charan and facilitate a healthy conversation on the difference between micromanaging and appropriate questioning.

Consider aligning this discussion with one of your organization’s core values or a Scripture that speaks to the value of listening to the counsel of others, such as Proverbs 11:14. Or, share the “Delegation Prayer” from Richard Kriegbaum’s powerful book, Leadership Prayers, including this:

“By your grace, my leadership will either
enhance or restrain the work of your Spirit in those who lead with me,
making them more effective or less effective.”

BOARD DISCUSSION: What guidelines should we adopt so, in most cases, we can agree on the difference between micromanaging and appropriate questioning?

MORE RESOURCES: Rich Stearns shares wisdom on helping board members avoid the weeds in his guest blog, “Apply for a Staff Position and You Can Deal With That Issue!” based on chapter 20 in Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, by Dan Busby and John Pearson.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Best Board Books: Index to 18 Good Governance Stimulators

Moving on! We’ve squeezed way too many blogs out of this “Best Board Books” series—and it’s time to move on. But first—don’t try to read all 18 books, start with just one. (See the list below.) 

Last week, a board chair emailed me that he’s following the “10 Minutes for Governance” practice suggested in Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom (see Lesson 39). Using a governance book that fits their board’s culture and season, each board meeting will feature a 10-minute segment to inspire board members in God-honoring governance. He’s already assigned board members to lead the next four segments.

“Great Boards Delegate Their Reading” is the title of Lesson 38 in Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom. It’s true! So…select one book, appoint an avid reader as your “Leaders Are Readers Champion” and watch boardroom engagement soar.


[  ] Book #1: Boards That Lead: When to Take Charge, When to Partner, and When to Stay Out of the Way, by Ram Charan, Dennis Carey and Michael Useem

[  ] Book #2: The Imperfect Board Member: Discovering the Seven Disciplines of Governance Excellence, by Jim Brown
[  ] Book #3: Best Practices for Effective Boards, by E. LeBron Fairbanks, Dwight M. Gunter II, and James R. Cauchenour

[  ] Book #4: Stewards of a Sacred Trust: CEO Selection, Transition and Development for Boards of Christ-centered Organizations, by David L. McKenna

[  ] Book #5: Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask, by Ram Charan

[  ] Book #6: Serving as a Board Member: Practical Guidance for Directors of Christian Ministries, by John Pellowe

[  ] Book #7: The Nonprofit Board Answer Book: A Practical Guide for Board Members and Chief Executives (3rd Edition), published by BoardSource

[  ] Book #8: The Practitioner's Guide to Governance as Leadership: Building High-Performing Nonprofit Boards, by Cathy A. Trower

[  ] 
Book #9Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree (Check out the 30-blog series here.)

[  ] Book #10: Good Governance for Nonprofits: Developing Principles and Policies for an Effective Board, by Fredric L. Laughlin and Robert C. Andringa
[  ] Book #11: Boards That Make a Difference: A New Design for Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations, by John Carver

[  ] Book #12: Call of the Chair: Leading the Board of the Christ-centered Ministry, by David L. McKenna

[  ] Book #13: Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability, by Jeanne Bell, Jan Masaoka and Steve Zimmerman

[  ] Book #14: Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It…and Why the Rest Don’t – Mastering the Rockefeller Habits 2.0, by Verne Harnish 

[  ] Book #15: Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom: 40 Insights for Better Board Meetings, (Second Edition), by Dan Busby and John Pearson

[  ] Book #16: The Council: A Biblical Perspective on Board Governance, by Gary G. Hoag, Wesley K. Willmer, and Gregory J. Henson

[  ] Book #17: Lessons From the Church Boardroom: 40 Insights for Exceptional Governance, by Dan Busby and John Pearson

[  ] Book #18: Humility, by Andrew Murray

BOARD DISCUSSION: Toss this C.S. Lewis zinger to your board—and discern if your ministry is on the right road. In The Council (Book #16), the authors quote Lewis’ insight from Mere Christianity:

“We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” 

MORE RESOURCES: Kent Stroman, guest blogger for Lesson 38 in Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, notes this from the U.S. Navy Seals, “Under pressure you don't rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training. That's why we train so hard.” Check out the “40 Blogs. 40 Wednesdays.” color commentaries on Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, by Dan Busby and John Pearson, including Lesson 38, “Great Boards Delegate Their Reading.”