Thursday, October 31, 2013

How to Avoid Obliteration

At an important committee meeting recently, I marveled at how the board chair inspired the participants not with a perfunctory prayer—but with a planning prayer.

Instead of downloading some trite feel-good story from the Internet, this board chair did the hard work and found the perfect thought and prayer on the planning process. It fit the time and place—hand in glove.

In a blog post last year I referenced Richard Kriegbaum’s wonderful book, Leadership Prayers, and the “Prayer for Competence.”  

This board chair also appreciates Kriegbaum’s powerful prayers and launched the meeting with the “Planning” prayer:

“Show me your way for us, God. In all the data, there are patterns I must see.  Among the many indicators, there are wise directions I must choose. By your grace I must peer through the foggy confusion and glimpse the light glimmering far ahead. Help me to choose the right path and head toward the right marker. 
If I am wrong, 
we could be obliterated. 
Guide me.

“Wisdom alone will not automatically make our plans easy to adopt or implement. Inevitably, wise planning will require us to act before it is completely apparent that we need to do so. For most of us, that will be hard to do, and it will be frightening for some. The comfort and security of the present that we worked so hard to create will try to seduce us. Nostalgia for our past will tempt us to stay there. Help me instill a longing for our future the way you see it. Carry us forward, God.

“Help us to let go of the present we worked so hard for, the present we asked you for, so that we may embrace a new and better future. Prepare us to accept some chaos in the short run in order to make things better in the long run, to take resources that could feed our present strengths and current welfare and risk them an uncertain future.

“As the leader, I speak for the future, and I love planning to get there. But this is very painful and threatening for some. Help me use the planning process to bring them along. Give me planning wisdom, God.

“Help us to move fast enough to reach our best future in time for it to matter. But let us move wisely enough that we can all stay together. Our inheritance lies yet ahead. Oh, God, help us claim it. I am looking for your guiding light.

“God of our future, show me your way. Make our plans wise.”

The prayer concludes with this encouragement from Jeremiah 29:11:
“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. 
‘They are plans for good and not for disaster,
to give you a future and a hope.’”

QUESTION: On the planning process continuum between “foggy confusion” (and perhaps obliteration) and God’s guiding light…where is your organization? How actively does your board and senior team spiritually discern God’s direction?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Nice Farewell Dinner, But Where’s My Plaque?

It’s not if your CEO exits some day, but when.

Whether your current CEO is your ministry’s founder with years of faithful service, or just one of a parade of capable CEOs who will serve your organization (5, 10 or 15 years perhaps), CEOs all have one thing in common—unique and differing expectations on how the board says goodbye when that time comes.

Board members also have unique and differing expectations on how to honor an exiting CEO, sometimes based on the circumstances of the departure.  But even in the best of situations, whether for retirement (“Job well done!”) or by God’s sovereign call on the CEO to serve at another ministry (“We’ll miss you—but we bless you!”), I frequently hear from departing CEOs that the farewell event or process rarely rings the bell.

So what’s the problem? Are CEOs’ expectations too high? Is it an ego thing?  Are some board members tone deaf?

Perhaps men and women on those boards have not experienced memorable farewells themselves. “Thanks, Charlie! Here’s a watch. Dessert will be served after we watch this commemorative video my junior high kid put together.”

Once, when debriefing an annual “360” review of their CEO, I asked the executive committee members if they knew the preferred love language of their CEO. They laughed—but then took it very seriously and later discerned how their CEO could sense on-going love and affirmation from the board.  

You’ve likely read Gary Chapman’s books on the five love languages, which include: 1) Words of affirmation, 2) Acts of service, 3) Receiving gifts, 4) Quality time, and 5) Physical touch.

My hunch: a CEO who was less than thrilled with his or her send-off was probably honored in some way by the board, but just with the wrong love language. 

Example: some years back, a retiring CEO with a long and appreciated tenure was duly honored at a large gathering. Glowing tributes filled the program. Yet, months later, he confided to me, 
“John, they didn’t give me a plaque.
Can you believe it? There was no plaque!”

I felt empathy for this faithful solider.  He didn’t serve the cause of Christ to get a plaque, but for him, a plaque would have been the perfect love language.

QUESTION: What is your CEO’s love language—and how do you regularly express appreciation to him or her?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Before We Adjourn…Any Apologies Needed?

What would be on your Top-5 list of “Distinctives of Christ-centered Governance?”

Certainly on my list would be this:
“Every board member faithfully responds
to the Holy Spirit’s nudges and never exits
a board meeting if a relationship is out of whack.”

Whenever Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church (an ECFA-accredited church) speaks, the room goes quiet.  In his book, The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God. Having the Guts to Respond (read my review), he shares a transparent board story.

At the end of a Willow Creek elders meeting, “in typical fashion the chairman of our board led us in a quick assessment of our demeanor and participation that evening. He asked, ‘Does anybody need to make amends for anything, clarify a point or apologize for a wrongdoing of any kind?’”

Hybels raised his hand—and his credibility—by confessing a playful, but inappropriate comment made earlier to a new elder.  The elder was not offended and knew Bill was joking.

Yet this from Hybels: “I got a subtle flag in my spirit after I made that wisecrack,” he admitted, “so I want to stick with the apology and ask your forgiveness here tonight.”

That’s just one of dozens of gems that eloquently illustrate the book’s title. And for me, that would rank on my Top-5 list of what distinguishes Christ-centered governance from the let’s-just-get-this-meeting-over-with garden variety type of boards.  

The personal transparency that is a Hybels trademark has helped fuel this remarkable leader's effectiveness. As I write this blog, this weekend marks the 38th anniversary of Willow Creek Community Church and his leadership of the global kingdom impact of the church and Willow Creek Association.

QUESTION: If an outside observer evaluated your last board meeting—what would he or she describe as the defining characteristics of your governance? Would they be Christ-centered?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Your Greatest Need: Money or Discernment?

Recently a ministry CEO asked me to suggest 10 options for a pre-retreat reading assignment.  My list ranged from books by Jim Collins to Harvard Business Review articles to a poke-in-the-heart spiritual discernment book.

The board chair and CEO picked the poke-in-the-heart book, Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups, by Ruth Haley Barton (read my review here). Board members and senior team members read the book, made notes on a “Read & Review” five-page worksheet, and—get this—brought both their brains and their hearts to the strategic planning retreat.

I trumpeted this book here in July, so if you missed that blog, I urge you to dig deeper as you inspire your board to move from decision-making to discernment. Barton’s book is jam-packed with insight and practical tools to equip boards and leadership teams to hear from God and to do his will. She writes:

“Have you ever been part of a meeting in which people were so tired that they made a decision just so they could go home? Have you ever participated in a decision-making process knowing that you were resorting to ‘sloppy desperation’ just because you were exhausted?”

You’ll appreciate the been there/done that elephant-in-the-room stories—and how a spiritual discernment process can lead you to a healthy culture. Barton will inspire you—and give you tools—for the priority task of discerning your board’s values. Her ten guidelines for “entering into and maintaining a listening posture” are both brilliant and practical. You’ll want to laminate the list and bring it to every meeting. 

Hey, Hank! Read No. 3 again! 

Share these listening guidelines at your next board meeting:
2. “Listen to others with your entire self (senses, feelings, intuition, imagination and rational faculties).”
3. “Do not interrupt.”
4. “Pause between speakers to absorb what has been said.”
5. “Do not formulate what you want to say while someone else is speaking.”
9. “Leave space for anyone who may want to speak a first time before speaking a second time yourself.”

The 10 guidelines are listed on page 207 of this remarkable book.

At this recent retreat, I was privileged to facilitate a process with men and women whose hearts were prepared—even hungry—for unity and direction. God honored their hearts’ desires.

QUESTION: What’s the most important need in our ministry right now? Raising money to do our work or discerning what work God wants us to do?