Saturday, May 31, 2014

Board Meeting Rules of Thumb: Subtle Signs of Slippage

This month, while traveling out of state, I had an unplanned two-night hospital stay. The flat-on-my-back position tends to activate the philosopher in me.  So I focused on equal doses of the three P’s: Pain, Prayer and Philosophizing. 

My best philosophizing moment occurred after check-out—at the airport—as I reflected on the sum total of my hospital experience. Here’s what happened:

In between needle pokes and IVs, I asked my nurse for a pen and paper. The hospital pen, complete with name, website and logo, did its work at first.  But two days later at the airport, I pulled the pen from my navy blazer pocket—and presto!—the pen tumbled to the floor in four pieces.

Thus my epiphany:  “Yikes!” I mumbled to myself, “If cheap pens are standard issue—what else is sub-standard at that hospital? IVs? Thermometers? Sanitation? Training? Record-keeping?” My mind went wild.

Then I thought about board meetings and my new rule of thumb:
“There must be ample 'Sturdiness Indicators' to outweigh the subtle signs of slippage." (Quality presentations may not overcome crummy pens.) 

What subtle signs of slippage show up at your board meetings? Here’s a possible list:
   • Typos in the minutes
   • Financial report inaccuracies
   • Inadequate preparation
   • Reliance on anecdotes over data
   • Cosmetic economizing (“We saved a tree by not printing out this report.”)
   • Spiritualizing (“God told me.”)

Next, what dominant signs of sturdiness ooze out of your board work (“Sturdiness Indicators”)?
   • A balanced mix of faith and due diligence
   • Honest reporting (the good news and the bad news)
   • Thoughtful reminders of the board’s role: Steward-Leaders, not Owner-Leaders (per Scott Rodin’s powerful book)
   • What would you add here?

In his classic book, Leadership Is an Art, Max De Pree warns about “impending deterioration.” That’s the slippage issue. De Pree writes that a financial analyst once asked him, “What is one of the most difficult things that you personally need to work on?”  His answer:
“The interception of entropy.”

So…what’s your take-away? Mine: “The pen is mightier than the sword” ain’t necessarily so. 

QUESTION: At the conclusion of your next board meeting, ask each board member for a 60-second around-the-table response to this question: “What did you notice today as a possible subtle sign of slippage—and what would be one ‘Sturdiness Indicator’ that you would affirm?”

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Board Meeting Rules of Thumb: 2 Prayers and a Poem?

Your board might be different, but I sense that many boards that consider themselves “Christ-centered”—in fact—are not Christ-centered at all. You might call them agenda-centered.

Check the box if this is common practice in your board meetings:
[  ] 1. Opening prayer. Closing prayer. (In-between: stick to the agenda.)
[  ] 2. If there’s time, someone shares a devotional thought or a poem—but the subject matter is rarely tied to critical agenda items. (“I found this on the Internet this morning.”)
[  ] 3. A fork-in-the-road issue faces the board—but no one suggests you pause and pray.
[  ] 4. Disagreements: frequent. Lack of unity: often. Inappropriate hallway conversations: sometimes. Confession of sin: never.
[  ] 5. Spiritually discerning God’s voice: no personal experience, so no group experience.

In The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God, Having the Guts to Respond, Bill Hybels writes, “We serve a communicating God—a God of words. [Throughout Scripture, he] created with a word, he healed with a word, he encouraged with a word, he rebuked with a word, he guided with a word, he prophesied with a word, he assured with a word, he loved with a word, he served with a word and he comforted with a word. Throughout all of history, God has communicated, and he still is at it today.
The issue isn’t whether or not God is speaking;
it’s whether we will have ears to hear what he says.”

It’s possible that your board doesn’t take the time to hear from God (to spiritually discern God’s voice and direction) because, as Hybels explains, the individuals around the table have never heard from God. A holy connection with heaven is not on anyone’s radar.

Hybels adds, “There is a God who loves you and who would gladly whisper to you words of encouragement or direction, wisdom or well-timed warning, if only you would carve out the space to hear from heaven throughout the course of your day.

“I’ve said those exact words to many people over the years and sometimes I have sensed in their response,
'Thanks, but no thanks.
I’d rather make my own judgment calls.’ 
"In my view, these people are running the risk of missing out on some of life’s God-guided adventures.

“God tends to speak to people who want to hear from him. He tends to offer divine direction to those who are willing to order their daily lives around receiving input from him.”

So…if money is tight. If unity is absent. If your ministry’s direction is lost in the fog—maybe instead of two prayers and a poem at your next board meeting, you embark on a new journey of hearing from God—and “having the guts to respond.”

Note: A participant guide and DVD (perfect for a board retreat) for The Power of a Whisper is available from Willow Creek Association.

QUESTION FOR A BOARD CANDIDATE: Tell us how you spiritually discern God’s voice in your own life—and your experience of hearing from God when you’ve served on other boards. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Board Meeting Rules of Thumb: Do Not Interrupt!

Of the four social styles gathered around your boardroom table (Drivers, Analyticals, Amiables and Expressives), at least two of the styles prefer to talk than listen.  There’s help! Ruth Haley Barton lists 10 listening guidelines in her important book, Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups.

She writes, “Don’t take it for granted that people know how to listen. We live in a culture where people are much more skilled at trying to get their point across and arguing their position that they are at engaging in mutually influencing relationships. The following are a few guidelines for entering into and maintaining a listening posture that helps us hear and interact in ways that are most fruitful.”

     1. Take full advantage of the opportunity provided to become settled in God's presence.

     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.

     6. Speak for yourself, expressing your own thoughts and feelings, referring to your own experiences. Avoid being hypothetical. Steer away from making broad generalizations.

     7. Do not challenge what others say. Rather, ask good questions that enable you to wonder about things together.

     8. Listen to the group as a whole—to those who have spoken aloud as well as to those who haven't. If you notice that someone hasn't spoken, feel free to ask what he or she is thinking. Some people aren't as comfortable as others at asserting themselves in conversation, but when space is created for them to speak, they have much to offer because they have been listening and observing quietly.

Leave space for anyone who may want to speak a first time before speaking a second time yourself.

     10. Hold your desires and opinions—even your convictions—lightly. Be willing to be influenced by others whom you respect.

Barton concludes this powerful page on listening guidelines with a personal reflection challenge. Consider sharing this at your next board meeting.

PERSONAL REFLECTION: "Invite God to search you and reveal your normal patterns of speaking and listening. Ask him to reveal one aspect of this kind of listening that you could practice in order to be a more helpful listener in leadership discernment."

Note: Barton adapted these listening guidelines from the book, Grounded in God, by Farnham, Hull and McLean.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Board Meeting Rules of Thumb: Uninspiring Agendas = Uninspiring Meetings

Your Current Reality—Check All That Apply:
[  ] 1. We frequently have empty seats at our board meetings.
[  ] 2. Unexcused absences are the norm, not the exception.
[  ] 3. Our meetings suffer from the 3 R’s: too much Reporting, been-there-done-that Routine (it’s all too predictable, even boring); and hashing over and Re-visiting past decisions.

Your Aspirations:
[  ] 1. We desire board meetings that engage our board members.
[  ] 2. We want our board members to sense they are on holy ground in our board meetings. As a board, we spiritually discern God’s voice. We tell stories about God’s faithfulness!
[  ] 3. We seek to leverage the strengths, spiritual gifts and passions of our board members—so each person thrives in their God-given board roles. 

Where are your board members on the above continuum? Ready to throw in the towel—or have they just experienced one of your best board meetings ever?

A foundational rule of thumb for board meetings can be described with this simple equation:
An Uninspiring Agenda = An Uninspiring Board Meeting

An inspiring agenda, in my opinion, includes these elements:
   • The agenda (and succinct back-up materials and staff and/or committee recommendations) arrives seven to 10 days before a board meeting.
   • The agenda highlights one to three major issues that require spiritual discernment, wisdom, insight and a high level of engagement by the board. (Options, perhaps, are given in the staff reports: Plan A, Plan B, or Plan C?)
   • The agenda sets time limits. (Example: We’ll invest 50 percent of our time on our three big issues.)
   • With advance notice of seven to 10 days, the agenda reminds board members to call the board chair or CEO if they need more information prior to the meeting.
   • The focus is on the future, not the past—and agenda items are discussed in the context of the strategic planning process. (My preference: a rolling three-year planning cycle that is reviewed quarterly and updated annually.)

In the absence of an inspiring agenda, board members will often wonder, “Why am I needed at this meeting? Do they really need my brains and my heart, or just my money and connections?” That thinking begins the unfortunate spiral south and a board member resignation often follows.

In a fascinating book to be released next week, the Commanding Officer of the U.S. President’s helicopter team, which includes Marine One, writes, 
“We are not a bunch of special Marines doing an average mission.
We are a bunch of average Marines
doing a very special mission.”
Inside Marine One: Four U.S. Presidents, One Proud Marine, and the World's Most Amazing Helicopter, by Col. Ray “Frenchy” L’Heureux

Your ministry is on a very special mission. Mediocre meetings produce mediocre missions. Inspiring meetings, with a sense of the holy, will produce inspiring missions!

QUESTION: At your next board meeting, conduct a 60-second per person drill around the room: “In your opinion, what’s the most significant contribution you have made as a board member in the last 12 months? Are we getting the best you have to offer? How can we do better?”