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?

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