Friday, December 28, 2012

Enabling Dysfunctional Boards

The well-worn axiom, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” might be an appropriate poster to hang in your boardroom.

When a board member—or an entire board—tilts toward dysfunction, it is the rare board that will address the issue promptly and appropriately.  In most cases (in my experience), boards tend to overlook, ignore, or hope-and-pray that the dysfunction disappears.

   • “His term is up in a year. Maybe he’ll miss a few meetings and then we won’t re-elect him to another term.”
   • “Don’t say anything. She’s a major donor.”
   • “I know everyone is talking in the hallways, but let’s not ruffle any feathers.”

And so it goes.
David Curry, CEO of The Rescue Mission (an ECFA-accredited organization) says that behind every addict is an enabler. (Read the review of his recent book, First Aid for Enablers.) Curry defines it this way: “Enabling is any behavior that removes or softens the consequences of addiction, thereby making it easier for the addict to continue to use drugs.”

In thinking about Christ-centered governance, maybe we could define it this way: “Enabling is any behavior by another board member, or the full board, that removes or softens the consequences of board dysfunction.”

Confronting dysfunction takes wisdom, grace and guts.  For many boards, bad behavior could be addressed with a simple end-of-meeting evaluation checklist. (Examples: Did I conduct myself with God-honoring character and comments? Did all other board members? Did we micro-manage?)

Good boards conduct an annual self-evaluation (often in January) to assess both individual and full board performance on agreed-upon-in-advance standards, protocol and goals.  The best boards then take it a step further—a frank in-the-room conversation with all board members. How can we improve? Are all of us having maximum impact?
Here’s another question to ask. In the chapter, “How Can Our Board Self-Evaluation Improve Our Function and Our Output?” (Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Needs to Ask, by Ram Charan), the author asks, “What would you say are the one or two things your board did that really made a difference for the [organization]?”

Dysfunctional boards, or board members, torpedo any opportunity for governance to be Christ-centered—and for the ministry to be effective with Kingdom opportunities.

QUESTIONS: When will you discuss your next board member self-evaluation process? What are three or four key questions that all Christ-centered board members should ask themselves in the annual self-evaluation?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Board Service: “Easy when…”


I am what some call a “raving fan” of a small nonprofit ministry. So when—out of the blue—a board member called me, I was all ears. What’s up?

We had never met until her phone call this week. She lives in Minnesota and shovels snow. I live in California and don’t. Not much in common except our passion for this life-changing ministry.

“I’m just calling to say thanks to you and Joanne for your faithful support of our ministry,” she smiled. (I know. It was a phone call. I couldn’t see her smile, but I could feel it.) Her warmth was genuine. She was spiritually dialed into this ministry. And she had done her homework on me.  She also connected me to a humorous photo I had emailed to the CEO. We both laughed.

After the short, but deeply appreciated conversation, I simply said, “Thank you. And thank you for being an active and engaged board member.”

“Oh…it’s easy being a board member!” she bubbled. “It’s easy…when you believe in the cause!”

In the ECFA 2012 Governance Survey, CEOs were asked, “What is your board’s single greatest need?” Twenty-five percent (the largest single response) of the 255 CEOs of ECFA-accredited ministries who answered the question mentioned the challenge of inspiring board members to give and/or help with fundraising.

What’s the problem? “It’s easy when you believe in the cause!”

QUESTION: Before you invite prospects to join your board, what process do you use to spiritually discern if they have passion for your cause?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Cajoled Onto the Board


“The Shortest Board Term in the History of the World” is the humorous, but poignant, in-the-trenches board story in the new ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 1: Recruiting Board Members.

The true story (names have been changed to protect the guilty) describes how a ministry fast-tracked a highly qualified person onto the board—but after one board meeting, the disillusioned board member quit.

The point: “dating a board prospect” takes time.  To find God’s person for our board, we must pray diligently, seek counsel, check references, and meet several times—always providing adequate time for Q&A (both ways).

Both the board prospect and the nominating committee must spiritually discern God’s direction. Will this person fit our culture? Will she add value? Is his family supportive of the high commitment to time, talent and treasure? Is she on too many boards already?

I was thinking about this recently when a highly qualified and experienced board member told me he had just turned down a board opportunity. He discerned—after much prayer and reflection—that he did not have sufficient passion for the ministry to assume the spiritual, stewardship and fiduciary responsibilities as an effective board member.

At first, I was disappointed to learn of his decision. From my perspective, he would have been an outstanding board member. Yet, he knew—deep in his heart—that someone with much greater passion for the ministry should accept this board position.

Ruth Haley Barton’s amazing book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, quotes Danny Morris and Charles Olsen, who write, “God’s will is the best thing that could happen to us under any circumstances.”

Amen. So (gulp) it’s OK to rejoice when God-honoring board prospects say no.  It could be worse—they could be cajoled onto your board only to become another nominee for the “Shortest Board Term in the History of the World.”

QUESTION: How does your nominating committee measure a board prospect’s passion for your ministry?

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Prayer for Competence

In my nonprofit ministry CEO years, I had the privilege of serving almost 20 board chairs. I discovered that when board members prayed and discerned God’s direction, the board chair they selected was frequently the right person at the right time—for the unique season of ministry that confronted the organization.

Recently, one of those board chairs (a stellar and God-honoring leader) emailed me with a very unique prayer request.  He recently re-joined an association board (not faith-based)—and the stakes are high.

His email ended with, “Need prayer to be competent and a witness.”

Wow! I cannot recall ever praying for competency. I’ve never asked anyone to pray that I be competent. Until last week, no one had ever asked me to pray that they be competent.

What would happen in our boardrooms if we stopped micro-managing the silly stuff—and got on our knees for the strategic stuff?

“Lord, we want to be competent as stewards of your work.”

Richard Kriegbaum’s wonderful little book, Leadership Prayers, includes a prayer for wisdom. He prays (in part): “If I were brilliant, if I had the knowledge and strengths that I admire in so many other people, if I were a spiritual giant, I would simply ask you to help me do my best. But my best is not good enough. I do not know enough, and I cannot see clearly enough. I am your child, and I want to learn, but unless your Spirit teaches me, I have little to offer. I need your wisdom.”

QUESTION: As a board member, what is your prayer?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Impending Deterioration

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality,” is the arresting beginning of a short, quotable piece of wisdom from Max De Pree, the former CEO of Herman Miller, Inc.  (Google his string of memorable quotations and you'll have a short course in servant leadership.)

De Pree balanced that rare combination of God-honoring wisdom with business savvy. The board chair of a seminary, he was also named to Fortune magazine’s National Business Hall of Fame.

In his classic book, Leadership Is an Art (read my review), he writes that a financial analyst once asked him, “What is one of the most difficult things that you personally need to work on?”  De Pree’s answer: “The interception of entropy.”

He added, “One of the important things leaders need to learn is to recognize the signals of impending deterioration.”  He kept a list and observed that leaders, especially in large organizations, fail to see the signs of entropy, including: 1) a tendency toward superficiality; 2) no longer having time for celebration and ritual; 3) a growing feeling that rewards and goals are the same thing; 4) when people stop telling tribal stories or cannot understand them; and 5) when problem-makers outnumber problem-solvers.  His list was longer—but you get the idea.

De Pree’s thoughts on entropy are refreshingly unique in our leadership literature. I wonder if he was also thinking about boards when he wrote that chapter?

I mentioned this idea to a ministry CEO recently after he observed this condition in his boardroom. While he didn't quote De Pree or mention “entropy,” his comments could have been a sidebar in De Pree’s book.

I'm paraphrasing here but this CEO, a keen observer of his board culture, bullet-pointed the symptoms expressed by his board members:
   --“We're busy. Do we really need a board retreat to talk about the strategic plan?”
   --“Isn’t this good enough for nonprofit work?”
   --“We’re all successful business people. Why do we need board training?”

This CEO’s closing comment was poignant as he painted the picture. “To move my board to the next level of effectiveness,” he sighed, "will take a mighty shove!"

De Pree’s full quotation is worth memorizing. “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”

I affirmed my CEO friend for reaching Phase One in his quest for a more effective and God-honoring board—defining reality.

QUESTION: What is your board’s reality? Entropy or excellence?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Two Tools for Improving Communication

In the last blog, we noted the ECFA 2012 Governance Survey conducted in August 2012, where board chairs shared the “single greatest need” of their ministries. Today, we’ll zero in on one theme mentioned frequently in the 625 responses from board members.
One board member wrote, “To be more informed between meetings. The board chair meets weekly with the CEO but does not communicate with board members.”

Here are two tools to address the communication challenge:

Tool #1: Reader or Listener?
Determine the communication style for each board member (and the CEO). Ask each board member whether he or she would prefer receiving information in written form or in audio form.  Readers comprehend more when information is delivered in written form. Listeners comprehend more when the communication is in audio form.

While segmenting board member communication preferences into these two categories may sound challenging, think what it could do if communication improved dramatically!
Written board reports will bless your readers. Audio reports (a simple audio recording of the material read by the CEO, then sent via email) will bless the listeners. Many of the telephone conference call services also offer recording options so your CEO can record a monthly “CEO Update” and then email the link to all the board members. You may prefer to also add video to your audio.

Tool #2: CEO’s 5/15 Monthly Report to the Board
I encourage CEOs to email or mail a monthly CEO Report to board members. Some boards prefer a report twice a month. Pat Clements, the president of Church Extension Plan, introduced me to the concept of the “5/15” report. It’s brilliant!

Using a standard monthly report template (which the executive assistant or VP prepares for the CEO), the CEO can then edit the report and add a story or ministry highlight—all in about 15 minutes.  The written report (with an attached audio file) can be emailed monthly and the board member will have a succinct, but informative CEO Update that can be read in just five minutes—hence the “5/15” report: 15 minutes to write and 5 minutes to read!

QUESTION: Has your board agreed on the template and standing topics that your CEO should report on each month (and the report frequency)?  If you have never talked about it, add this topic to the agenda for the next meeting—and perhaps bring a sample of your own customized “5/15” board report.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Board Chairs: Our Single Greatest Need


In the ECFA 2012 Governance Survey (with nearly 1,600 responses), CEOs, board members and board chairs shared the “single greatest need” of their ministries. Almost 200 board chairs answered the question (60 skipped it) and the responses were diverse. While other multiple-choice questions identified "fundraising" as the top need, “strategic” was a common theme in this question for board chairs. Here is a sampling of what they said:

The "Single Greatest Need" of Board Chairs:
• “Alignment of mission, vision and values.”
• “Getting results from committees in between board meetings."
• “Better utilizing all board members; playing to their strengths.”
• “Managing the appropriate level of communications to the board between meetings.”
• “Comprehending the implications of financial statements.”
• “Knowing the highest priorities for comprehensive governance and knowing we have completed our responsibilities with appropriate time, energy and resources.”
• “Keeping God's role primary and our thoughts and plans within God's plans.”
• “Rallying and encouraging our board members to attract donors.”
• “To recruit new international and female members.”
• “Motivating board members to move toward policy governance and strategic planning.  We are actively working on this.”

• “Staying focused on strategic goals and accountability.”
• “Independence from CEO.”
• “Succession planning.”
• “Maximizing the effectiveness of each board member.”
• “Patience.”
• “Keep heart right and dedication of time for the ministry.”
• “[Understanding] how other ministries effectively balance the board members' strengths with the need to be strategic and not tactical.”
• “For the staff, excluding the CEO, to view the board as a vital part of the ministry.”

• “Getting the CEO to be strategic.”
• “Getting the board to make difficult decision.”
• “Clarity of strategy.”

• “Wisdom to know how to keep the Board involved.”

• “Being strategic. Being discerning of God's will.”
• “Thinking outside of the box, but within the Spirit's intentions.”
• “Generous board members.”
• “A successor.”
• “Understanding best practices in governance.”
• “To hear and obey the voice of God.”
• “More experience and better understanding of governance.”
• “Help for nonperforming board members.”
• “Discernment in evaluating opportunities that come to us for expanding our mission.”

• “Online board training.”

• “How do I know I'm effective in my role as chair?”
• “Getting the CEO to pace himself.”
• “Time to hear from God.”
• “Knowing how I can best support and encourage the CEO.”
• “Developing the board and organization to continue vital ministry in the generation beyond the founder, who is in process of disengaging from the organization.”
• “Balancing ‘walking in faith’ with conservative fiduciary responsibility.”
• “Adapting ends policies and strategy to a changing environment.”
• “$”
• “To know what I should be most focused on other than simply running the meetings.”

QUESTION: At your next board meeting, ask each person (including the CEO) to write out and then share their answer to the question, “What is our board’s single greatest need?” Extra credit: What would your board chair say?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Keeping Up With the Joneses

The board member had a contagious smile and his positivity quotient was sky high. He was more engaged than most. My first impression: quality person.
At a coffee break near the end of a board training weekend, he buttonholed me before I could put the requisite Hazelnut-flavored creamer in my coffee.
“John, you’ve worked with lots of boards. So how good are we? I think we do our governance work well. But how do we compare with other nonprofit ministry boards of our scope and size?”

Like the suburban rat race family, it was important that his board, in governance terms, was keeping up with the Joneses. It’s a natural question—but it’s the wrong question.

A better question would address what David McKenna labels “the sacred trust” of board service.

Here are some questions I encourage boards to confront:
   • Are we stewarding our board roles as a “sacred trust” from God?
   • Are we spiritually discerning God’s direction for our ministry?
   • Are we holding each other accountable for Kingdom results?
   • Are we assessing the effectiveness and performance of every board member?
   • Are we supporting and evaluating our CEO’s performance against agreed-upon and spiritually discerned Annual S.M.A.R.T. Goals?

When I finally got my coffee creamer, I did answer his question.  “Actually, your board is doing many things well. My gut: you are in the top 10-20 percent of nonprofit boards. But—let me add this. You will be pleasantly surprised, even shocked, at how much, much better you could be with the addition of some strategic next steps in your governance work.  And those next steps will have a dramatic and God-honoring impact on your work and your relationships."

QUESTION: How about your board? How much better—how much more God-honoring—could you be if you focused not on the Joneses, but on God’s unique call for your important ministry?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

More Huckster Than Holy?


The executive summary of the ECFA 2012 Governance Survey, completed by almost 1,600 CEOs, board chairs and board members of ECFA Accredited organizations will be released in the next few weeks.  The differences between the three groups are very, very interesting.

Cameron Doolittle, president and CEO of Jill’s House, Vienna, Va., has collaborated with ECFA on the survey analysis.  He titled one finding, “Get money. Then what? Chairs, board members, and CEOs disagree.”

The survey question: “Of the organizational areas listed below, what are the Top-5 areas that need the greatest improvement in your ministry?”  There were 10 options, including: Fundraising, Finance & Accounting, Human Resources, Governance, Programs, Products & Services, Team Building, Meeting “Customer Needs,” Marketing & Public Relations, Strategic Planning, and Achieving Mission Results.

No surprise—all three groups ranked “Fundraising” as their greatest need. But then what? Here are the second highest ranked needs:
   --355 CEOs said: Marketing & Public Relations
   --255 Board Chairs voted for: Achieving Mission Results
   --971 Board Members checked: Strategic Planning

We’ll talk about this in future blogs, but let’s go back to the greatest need—fundraising. Why might that be? Here’s my list of possibilities:

1. Fundraising is everyone’s greatest need because with more money we can reach and serve more people for Christ.

2. But maybe, fundraising was rated Number One Need because we’re driven to do too much—way, way beyond God’s direction. He’s intentionally not blessing our work because it’s OUR work.

3. Or, we’re abusing our givers, or treating givers and non-givers alike, or maybe our appeals are more huckster than holy.

4. Perhaps the fundraising revenue is right-sized, but our expenses are super-sized.

5. It’s possible that we don’t have the right development team in place. Too old school. Too hip. Maybe we’ve inappropriately replaced shoe leather with social media. Or we have twice as many planning meetings as we have prayer meetings.

6. How about this gut check? Board members—that group that should have the highest passion and commitment for the ministry—are not 100 percent all in as generous givers (and I don’t mean “wealthy” givers). And so their circle of influence is weak or non-existent.

I could go on and I’m sure you can add to this list. It would be a good topic for your board meeting or prayer meeting. Ask your board members to rate all 10 areas.

QUESTION: Is fundraising the greatest need in your organization? If so, what might you learn by digging deeper into this subject?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

3-Point Talk: Right, Wrong or Inappropriate


Ram Charan’s helpful book for corporate boards, Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask (read my review), is packed with wisdom and caution for nonprofit ministry boards too.  He writes:

“With the right composition, a board can create value; with the wrong or inappropriate composition, it can easily destroy value.”

The decision to invite a new member onto the board will likely be one of the Top-5 (or certainly one of the Top-10) decisions you’ll make in any one year. We should be sobered by Charan’s statement. So how do you spiritually discern God’s voice about new board members?

Use his comments as a three-point outline for a spiritual insight segment at your next board meeting.

#1. With the RIGHT composition, a board can create value. It’s not just having individual board members who are stellar—it’s having the right composition of board members. We don’t want clones, we want chemistry. We want the grandeur of the Body of Christ in all of its richness and gifts (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, etc.) to be at play on our boards. Highly competent look-alikes need not apply.

#2. With the WRONG composition, a board can easily destroy value. I consulted with an organization whose board members were almost entirely from one industry. Ditto many of their donors. They were God-honoring and highly committed to the cause. When that industry’s segment fell on hard times, the organization was forced to merge with another ministry.

#3. With an INAPPROPRIATE composition, a board can easily destroy value. This is more subtle. It might be spiritual or theological (too narrow, too liberal, or too denominational). It might be age or gender-focused (too white, too old, or even too young or too hip). It might be a governance-savvy issue (too many board novices, too fixed on one board model, too “Policy Governance®-oriented,” or not enough experience with the policy function of boards).

Whew! This board stuff is hard work!  Certainly, none of us want to serve on a board where, under our stewardship, we destroyed value and Kingdom impact was diminished. So remember 1 Corinthians 4:2, “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”

For more help, order the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 1: Recruiting Board Members.

QUESTION: What are we doing year-round to ensure that we are recruiting the “right composition” of men and women onto our board?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Cousin Eddie Syndrome

Have you ever been on a board when a well-meaning, but inexperienced board member pipes up, “My neighbor knows a guy who knows a guy who has a Cousin Eddie. Eddie would be perfect for our board!”

You blink—and presto! Cousin Eddie is on your board. He’s not the right fit. He’s out of sync with your board’s culture. He’s not a generous giver. His Christian character has serious flaws. At best, he’s a warm body.

Now there’s help for the Cousin Eddie Syndrome! The ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 1: Recruiting Board Members is now available. Order here from ECFA.
The Recruiting Board Members toolbox includes:
   --1 DVD (13 minutes—perfect for a board meeting)
   --12 Board Member Read-and-Engage Viewing Guides (20 pages)
   --1 Facilitator Guide (4 pages)

The helpful Facilitator Guide offers three discussion options (short, medium or for a board retreat) and points you to additional resources online.

More topics are coming. ECFA’s goal is to have a robust series of strategic toolkits on the shelf so board chairs and CEOs can readily address board issues with a short video and a focused discussion.

Many boards have a governance life-long learning segment at each meeting. At each meeting of the board I serve on, we include a “Ten Minutes for Governance” hot topic or governance book review. It’s stimulating. None of us is as smart as all of us. We are constantly reminded of our kingdom priorities as stewards of God’s work.

You might wonder: Do Christ-centered boards recruit their members differently than secular boards? They should!  The toolkit addresses the critical role of spiritual discernment and prayer in the board recruitment process. 

QUESTION: How does your board avoid the Cousin Eddie Syndrome—and when is the last time you’ve reviewed board recruitment best practices?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Mission Statement Pop Quiz


Picture this!

I was coaching the board of a nonprofit Christian theatre company this week—and I asked everyone to stand.

“If you can recite your ministry’s mission statement by memory, please remain standing.”

I blinked—and just two people were still standing (with plenty of chuckles echoing around the room).  The CEO and the board chair (still on their feet) were ready to duke it out for the prize—until the CEO had a memory lapse.

So…it was Last Man Standing for the winner’s circle.

“OK. Turn your back to the PowerPoint,” I instructed the board chair, “and then I’ll put your mission statement on the screen—while you recite it by memory, word for word.”

He tried. Heroically! But half-way through, he sat down too.

“What just happened?” I asked the highly committed board members in the room.

The discussion was dynamic. Homework was assigned and—my guess—they will repeat the “Last Person Standing” drill at their next board meeting. Successfully.

By the way, their current mission statement is outstanding (in my opinion). “[We exist] to create theatre that explores the beauty and questions of life while providing hope to our search for meaning.”

Yet…they are in the process of revising the mission statement—to make it zing even more! Good for them.

And even better—their “value statements” are limited to just three (not 10). “We value faith. We respect people. We celebrate theatre.”

All the literature, all the books, and all the resources hammer us on the importance of aligning everything we do with our mission. When we ask for God’s blessing on our ministry work—maybe we should be crystal clear about our mission, so we are not fuzzy in our prayers.

Step 1: Memorize the mission statement!

QUESTION: If you offered a Starbucks card to every board member who can pass the Mission Statement Pop Quiz, how many cards would you need?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Do You Need a Consultant—or a Pastor?


The nonprofit ministry CEO in the back row of my workshop asked a question about term limits for board members.

He had two board members whose effectiveness, in his opinion, had dried up years ago. Yet the board continued to re-elect these two individuals to successive three-year terms—and there were no term limits.

The CEO felt safe enough in this workshop of his peers to whine extensively (on and on and on, actually) about these dead wood board members who had dug in deep—and “no way,” he said, would they exit from the board.

“Could a consultant help me?” the CEO asked.

The workshop was ending, so my nine-word response was direct: “You don’t need a consultant, you need a pastor.”

In R. Scott Rodin’s powerful book, The Steward Leader: Transforming People, Organizations and Communities (read my review), he writes:

“If I could put one Bible verse on the desk of every pastor and every Christian leader in the world, it would be this: ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us’ (1 John 1:8).”

If you want a healthy board, recruit healthy and spiritually mature people.  If you want a dysfunctional board, recruit people who tilt toward being “owner-leaders,” not “steward-leaders” (Rodin’s poignant labels).

Board members who have hands open—eagerly seeking to hear and obey God’s voice—will not prolong their board service one day beyond His direction.  At a minimum, authentic Christ-followers will invite frank feedback on their effectiveness.

This should be one more profound and vital distinctive of Christ-centered governance: we hold our board roles loosely, to the glory of God. And when we serve on boards that do not have term limits, we are especially thoughtful and prayerful about our tenure.

QUESTION: According to BoardSource’s hot-off-the-press 2012 Nonprofit Governance Index, 27 percent of boards surveyed do not have term limits. Whether you have term limits or not, does your board have an annual self-assessment process that helps you address the dead wood syndrome?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Good Thing Pilots Are Life-long Learners!


If you’re on your fair share of airplanes every year, you probably don’t worry much about pilot competencies. To fly, pilots must be life-long learners. They study. They train. They’re tested. They’re certified. As stewards of passenger safety, they get it.

At your next board meeting, bring a Starbucks card (or some other incentive) and ask everyone to stand. Then go through this list—until your last man or last woman is standing.

Life-long Learner Pop Quiz:
#1. Remain standing if you are grateful that pilots are life-long learners.
#2. Remain standing if you think your pharmacist, dentist and doctor should be life-long learners.
#3. Remain standing if you think board members (stewards of God’s work) should be life-long learners.
#4. Remain standing if, as a board member, you have invested a minimum of 10 hours this year in governance life-long learning (books, articles, audio resources, workshops, conferences, etc.).

If anyone is still standing…keep going:
#5. Remain standing if you have invested 20 or more hours this year in governance life-long learning.

I facilitated this drill earlier this year at the ECFA Governance Forum and while 95 percent of the room sat down after Question #4, there were some sterling stewards still standing.  The last man standing had invested more than 50 hours (and it was only March!) in becoming more effective at his governance role.

1 Corinthians 4:2 reminds us that to be a steward it is required that one be found trustworthy.

In his quick-reading book, Axiom: Powerful Leadership Proverbs, Bill Hybels, the board chair of Willow Creek Association and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church (both are ECFA accredited), has pointed counsel for CEOs, senior pastors and board chairs. Chapter 29 is titled “Speed of the Leader, Speed of the Team.” (Read my review of Axiom.)

So, by example, inspire your board members to be trustworthy stewards as they hear from God and pilot the direction of your ministry.

QUESTION: How much time have you invested this year in being your best in the governance of your Christ-centered organization?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

2 Big Differences: Decision-making and Conflict Resolution

In my last blog I asked, “Is there a difference between how a ‘secular’ board governs and how a ‘Christ-centered’ board governs?”

In my opinion: absolutely! Here are just two thoughts on this:

#1. Governance Decision-making. Secular governance literature has numerous ideas for effective decision-making—most of them excellent. But for the Christ-follower, decision-making without a spiritual discernment component is empty and often misguided. For more on this, read my review of Ruth Haley Barton’s latest book, Pursuing God’s Will Together.

#2. Conflict Resolution. When two or more people serve together, it’s not if you’ll have conflict, but when. Secular models of conflict resolution are helpful, yet for the Christ-follower, Matthew 18 is the gold standard. Check out the Christ-centered resources at Peacemaker Ministries (an ECFA accredited organization), including “The Slippery Slope of Conflict.”

According to Peacemaker Ministries, “The key to changing the way we deal with conflict is the gospel—the good news that God made peace with us and between us by sending his Son to die for our sins and give us new life through his resurrection (Col. 1:19-20; Eph. 2:14-16).”

QUESTION: What are other factors that clearly indicate the difference between how a “secular” board governs and how a “Christ-centered” board governs?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Christ-centered Gap Between CEOs and Board Members?

Is there a difference between how a “secular” board governs and how a “Christ-centered” board governs?
The ECFA 2012 Governance Survey asked that question and the results are just in today.

CEO Responses:
   --Yes: 91.5%
   --No:   3.1%
   --I don’t know: 5.4%

Board Chair Responses:
   --Yes: 64.3%
   --No:   7.1%
   --I don’t know: 28.6%

Board Member Responses:
   --Yes: 66.0%
   --No:   6.3%
   --I don’t know: 27.7%

One thing is clear—34 to 35 percent of ECFA board chairs and board members said either “no” or “I don’t know,” while only 8.5 percent of CEOs checked those boxes.

In my next blog, I’ll weigh in on this subject (it’s important!)—but what do you think? By the way, the Executive Summary of ECFA’s 2012 survey will be available in October. Participants included the CEOs, board chairs and board members of ECFA accredited organizations. Almost 1,600 CEOs and board members participated in this survey, the second year of the survey.

QUESTIONS: Is there a difference between how a “secular” board governs and how a “Christ-centered” board governs?  Is there a significant gap between what you believe and what others believe? Why?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Musical Chairs

If we are to spiritually discern God’s direction, as board members, how important is it that we really know each other?

If your board meets four times a year, and a new member just joined the board—how long should it take before you know what makes her tick? How does she make decisions? Like a Driver (“Any decision is better than no decision!”)? Or like an Analytical (“No decision is better than the wrong decision!”)?

Last month we talked about Ruth Haley Barton’s new book, Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups. Is it possible that we can pursue God’s will together—if we really don’t know each other?

Here’s an idea, one of seven, from a recent online article, “Creating a Great Board of Directors,” by David K. Rehr, Adjunct Professor at George Washington University. His suggestion:

“Alternate board seating arrangements so directors are constantly developing new relationships. We often think that all directors know each other and are familiar. But, in reality, their busy professional and personal lives often make it difficult for them to really get to know to each other. Mixing where people sit allows the board to get to know each other better.”

Picture your last four board meetings. Hank sits there. Jane sits there, and don’t even try to separate Julio and Hans!  This fix doesn’t need 12 steps: just two:
   #1. Admit that we are powerless to change our seating routine on our own.
   #2. Ask your board chair to intentionally move board name cards around the table—so at each meeting you’re sitting next to a different board member.

And…no extra charge…here’s an idea that I picked up from Mark Holbrook, current board chair of the ECFA Board of Directors.  At ECCU (where he serves as president and CEO), team member bring their name cards to every meeting. Each name card lists that person’s Top-5 Strengths from the Gallup Organization’s StrengthsFinder assessment.

Imagine how that simple tool would help your board members learn a little more about Jane—and what makes her tick!

QUESTION:  Would a “musical chairs” exercise help your board members develop more meaningful and deeper relationships with each other? Would that help all of you, in turn, get on the same page as you spiritually discern God’s direction for your organization?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Your Board’s Fair Share of the World’s Burden

One of my favorite devotional books is John Baillie’s remarkable one-million-copy bestseller, A Diary of Private Prayer. The format is surprisingly simple: 31 morning prayers and 31 evening prayers, each just one short page.

On the 19th of last month, I was reflecting on the governance challenges of Christ-centered organizations and…wham! A portion of that morning’s prayer got my attention:

“O Lord of the vineyard, I beg Thy blessing upon all who truly desire to serve Thee by being diligent and faithful in their several callings, bearing their due share of the world’s burden, and going about their daily tasks in all simplicity and uprightness of heart.”

I have never heard a ministry CEO, or senior pastor, or board chair or board member ask or pray about this profound question. “As we consider our calling and the mission God has led us to, what exactly is our fair share of the task?”

I have observed ego-driven over-achievers bite off too much. I have watched many board members shrink back from opportunity (and risk) when maybe God was calling them to exercise faith muscles. I have seen many board members become overwhelmed and exhausted. (Hardly God-honoring.)

How many of us really get it right—a holy balance in bearing our due share of the world’s burden?

QUESTION: Has your board ever had this discussion? Good policy starts with prayer and God-directed thinking.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Your Designated Discernmentarian

Ruth Haley Barton has the audacity to suggest, “Just because something is strategic does not necessarily mean it is God’s will for us right now.”

In her new book, Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups (read my review here), she says that while most boards practice decision-making, God calls church and ministry boards to practice discernment.

If your board meetings are book-ended by prayer, but the big middle feels more corporate than Christian, this would be a soul-stretching book to discuss at your next board meeting or annual board retreat.

Barton says that every board needs a designated “discernmentarian” and a wise sage.  And before a group of Christ-followers can practice spiritual discernment together—that discipline must be resident in each individual’s walk with God. (Memo to the Nominating Committee!)

Practice “holy indifference,” counsels Barton. “At the beginning of any leadership discernment process, it is good to be reminded to ask for the grace to be indifferent to matters of ego, prestige, organizational politics, personal opinion, personal advantage or even ownership of a pet project.”

This might be the most important book you will read this year.

QUESTION: When we’re facing a fork-in-the-road decision, do we have the spiritual tools at hand to truly hear from God and practice “indifference” to our own personal views?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Great Boards & the Elephants-in-the-Room

At your next board meeting, break into groups of two or three and start the clock on this five-minute exercise:

“In five minutes, make a list of the reasons why an annual board member self-assessment process might help us become better board members.”

I can think of about 20 reasons, but here are just five:

1) An annual board member self-assessment process communicates to the CEO that we’re serious about effectiveness, faithfulness and God-honoring fruitfulness.

2) When the board is open to frank feedback per Ephesians 4:15, “speak the truth in love,” it creates an environment for the CEO to do the same.

3) When the CEO is open to frank feedback, it creates an environment for the senior team (and their direct reports) to do the same.

4) As Max De Pree said, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.” An annual board self-assessment (if done with God-honoring integrity) will help us discuss the elephants-in-the-room, clear the air, and define reality.

5) Sometimes, it will cause an under-performing or not-engaged board member to self-assess and then spiritually discern the next obvious step: “Maybe it’s time I should exit from the board."

QUESTIONS: Does your board conduct an annual self-assessment process? If not, should you add it to the agenda of your next board meeting? Will you also assess the spiritual condition of your board and your ministry? What devotional focus at your next board meeting might lay the groundwork for creating a self-assessment environment?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Board Retreat Engagement Reading

CEOs and board chairs frequently ask me, “We’re preparing for our annual (or every-other-year) board retreat. What’s a good book for board members to read in advance?”

I usually suggest one of five books, including Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask, by Ram Charan. (Read my review.)

If you’re not planning a retreat, you can also leverage the wisdom in this book by addressing one or two questions per board meeting over the next year or more.  The book can also be read topically, based on your current hot issues. When I first read this excellent resource, I started with Question 13: How Do We Stop From Micromanaging?
Here’s a question (not in this book) for Christ-centered organizations: When does a board’s micromanagement cross the line from ineffective governance to blatant sin? If you explore the driving forces of micromanagement, from a biblical perspective, you might uncover some ugliness/sin: lack of trust, ego, pride, perfectionism, lack of faith, lack of grace and much more.

But enough preaching—and more on this book.  All 14 questions have zinger qualities to them. My favorites, based on my board consulting work, include:
   --Question 11: How Can Executive Sessions Help the Board Own Up?
   --Question 12: How Can Our Board Self-Evaluation Improve Our Functioning and Our Output?
   --Question 2: Are We Addressing the Risks That Could Send Our Company Over the Cliff?
   --Question 4: Are We Well Prepared to Name Our Next CEO?
   --Question 5: Does Our Board Really Own the [Organization’s] Strategy?

The best practices for the strategy question are both brilliant and practical—but the CEO will need to dramatically increase face time with board members. But the pay-off could be huge. He notes, “Strategy should always be in the back of directors’ minds. It helps to have the strategy brief or a two-page sheet of bullet points in the binder for every meeting.”

Then Charan cautions us, “If the board and the CEO have lasting substantive differences, they have a choice: stay with the strategy or replace the CEO. Consider that management has a shelf life too, just like the strategy.” (Yikes! If you’re the CEO, maybe you’ll delete this book from your list—or use it as a tool to raise the bar in your own God-honoring leadership.)

Engagement Method.  Pick the most relevant six or eight chapters and pre-assign to board members. At the retreat, ask each board member to share a 10-minute chapter review (five minutes of content and five minutes of Q&A). You’ll be amazed at the level of preparation—and the insights—when you engage your board members.

QUESTION:  If you gave a Pop Quiz at your next board meeting, how many board members would be able to intelligently articulate your organization’s strategy?

Friday, June 29, 2012

The “Quieter” Pool of Board Members

My wife and I enjoy a week of R&R every year in the California desert.  Our favorite destination has two pools: 1) the noisy and very active family pool, and 2) the “Quiet Pool.”

This year, however, the “Quiet Pool” sign had been replaced by a new sign, “Quieter Pool.” (Apparently, the resort couldn’t guarantee total “quiet” and so a staff committee must have brainstormed and posted the new normal!)

Many boards have three types of people in their board pools:
   1) Noisy
   2) Quiet
   3) Quieter

None are really helpful to Christ-centered governance—so I encourage board chairs and CEOs to be very intentional in fostering appropriate discussion at board meetings. 

Thoughtful board chairs leverage boardroom tools to create helpful dialogue. Here are several ideas:

The First 45-Minutes Rule.  Within the first 45 minutes of a board meeting, create an environment where every board member shares something. 
1) Ask a question and divide into groups of two or three board members each—so everyone can share an opinion at the top of the meeting.
2) Pose a question and then ask each person (around-the-table) to answer the question in one minute or less (use the timer on your iPhone). It might be: “Give us some good news about your personal life.” Or, “What is one thing about this ministry that gives you great joy?”

Delegate Your Reading. In preparation for a recent board retreat, we pre-assigned the seven chapters from Jim Collins’ latest book, Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck—Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. We all read the entire book, but seven people each shared 10-minute chapter reviews.  In 70 minutes, we had mastered the content of the book—and discussed the implications for this ministry. 

This format gave our “quiet” and “quieter” board members an uninterrupted 10-minutes of air time to showcase their God-given insights. It was powerful!

It’s a crime to conclude a board meeting and, after the fact, note that some board members did not contribute to the discussion. You can fix that with creativity and intentionality.

Question: What methods do you leverage to tone down your noisy board members and encourage your quieter board members to speak up?


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Board Warts

Patrick Lencioni’s latest book, while written for senior teams, has much to say to board teams about the “soft side” of governance—relationships. Christ-centered board members must be competent at this, but it’s a journey, isn’t it?

In his book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, Lencioni writes, “The only way for teams to build real trust is for team members to come clean about who they are, warts and all.”

He adds that “bad meetings are the birthplace of unhealthy organizations and good meetings are the origin of cohesion, clarity and communication.

“If someone were to offer me one single piece of evidence to evaluate the health of an organization, I would not ask to see its financial statements, review its product line, or even talk to its employees or customers: I would want to observe the leadership team during a meeting.”

Ditto a board meeting! 

The book highlights five principles that every team [and board] must embrace. Lencioni’s behavioral pyramid (top to bottom) includes:

This may well be my top pick for “2012 Book-of-the-Year.” It’s that important and helpful. (Read my book review.)

Question: What are you doing—in every board meeting—to build God-honoring trust, conflict (the good kind!), commitment, accountability and results?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Two Prayers and a Poem Are Not Enough!

If we’re not intentional, Christ-centered governance may often look and taste like most secular governance models with one exception: you’ll drop in a prayer at the beginning and the end of the meeting; and maybe throw in a devotional thought or poem. Then…presto…it’s “Christian governance.” Not really.

Recently, I facilitated board retreats in two different states. At one retreat, a short inspirational video was played that helped board members transition from the travel hassles of arriving at the meeting…to the holy calling of being board members/stewards of the ministry. The video helped set the tone for the day.

At another retreat, a board member shared an inspirational two-page presentation that—in my opinion—will be the catalyst for a major fork-in-the-road decision about the organization’s mission and future.

In this case, the board member had clearly taken time to hear from God—to discern what God was saying to him and the board. Then he wrote his presentation (two pages, typed), rehearsed it, and with a Holy Spirit-empowered conviction and a stunning use of Scripture, inspired the board to think bigger about their kingdom calling.

At the end of the two-day retreat, as each board member shared his or her “One Big Take-Away,” many board members mentioned the devotional presentation as the highlight of the board retreat.

As I reflected on this extraordinary retreat, here’s what I observed:
1) A board member took his role seriously. He prayed and he prepared.
2) The “devotional” was specific. Why are we here? What is God calling us to be and to do? (There was no generic good-enough-for-the-board stuff off the Internet.)
3) Other board members listened—both to him and to God.

Think back over your last few board meetings. Can you remember what anyone shared or prayed about? Elton Trueblood said, “Pious shoddy is still shoddy.”

Question: How will you raise the significance of the devotional thoughts at your board meetings and retreats?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Getting Your Board Through the Wilderness

Nonprofit ministry and church boards are always facing changes—planned or unplanned (the economy, CEO transitions, shifting loyalties of donors and much more). Yet I’m sensing that none of us invest enough time in discerning how to prepare for changes. 

So I was reminded this week of the succinct wisdom and practical next steps in the classic bestseller by William Bridges, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change.

He writes, “Imagine that the change [you’re planning] is a cue ball rolling across the surface of a pool table. There are lots of other balls on the table, and it’s going to hit a few of them, some because you planned it that way and some unintentionally.  Try to foresee as many of those hits as you can.”

One of my favorite seminary profs once told our class, “We’re nonprofit, but we didn’t plan it that way.”

When this book was first published in 1991, it was recognized as the definitive guide to dealing with change. Now one million copies later—it still holds that position.  If it’s not on your board’s reading list, it needs to be.

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.  Change is external, transition is internal.”

Change is a given—but how thoughtful board members and CEOs handle the psychological impact of transitions requires both understanding the problem and understanding and executing three critical steps.  

In Step 1, you must understand that transition begins with letting go of something. (Do your board members resist term limits or do they spiritually embrace them?)

In Step 2, you enter the neutral zone (the no man’s land between the old reality and the new).  Some will abort in this zone, not wanting the pain. But it’s also the place where creativity, renewal and development will often occur.  “The neutral zone is thus a dangerous and opportune place, and it is the very core of the transition process.”  (What is God saying here?)

Step 3 is the new beginning, but it’s often torpedoed because leaders don’t mark an appropriate end to the neutral zone (or skip it altogether). The new beginning can only be effective when your board goes through the first two steps.

How much training have your board members had on the psychological effects of change and transitions? Would you invest two to three hours to read a book or listen to an audio book on “Managing Transitions?” Before you announce the next big change in your board or organization (like moving to a new governance model), read the book!

Note: To download a 21-page article (PDF), “Getting Them Through the Wilderness,” by William Bridges, describing how Moses transitioned the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, click here.

QUESTION: Think back over some of the more significant changes your board has made in the last 18 months.  How did those changes affect you: physically, emotionally and spiritually?  Were you surprised at the effects of those changes?