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?”

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