Monday, November 26, 2018

Best Board Books #12: Call of the Chair

David McKenna warns CEOs and boards—don’t speed-vote an unsuspecting person into the board chair! This esteemed governance guru writes that the board chair “has responsibility for the speed, spacing, and sequence” of the governing process. (That will preach!)

Book #12: 
Call of the Chair: Leading the Board of the Christ-centered Ministry, by David L. McKenna
(Order from Amazon)

Before electing your board chair...STOP! If you’ve been around the nonprofit block for a few years, you’ve certainly experienced this scenario:

“Quick! While Jane is out of the room—I move that she be elected the new chairperson of the board, effective immediately.”

And presto! Without warning, Jane returns to the boardroom only to be handed the gavel—accompanied by the delightful dysfunctions of a nonprofit or church board of directors.

Stop the madness, says David McKenna. His book should be required reading for all ministry board chairs and CEOs. (Chairs of faith-based for-profit companies would also benefit.) Call of the Chair is jam-packed with 119 pages of wisdom, insights, and practical help for the board and their board chairs. Example:

McKenna writes that “The chair for a Christ-centered ministry must be called of God as well as elected by the board.” That would eliminate the speed-voting trick that landed Jane at the head of the board table.

“When the time comes for a board to elect a new chair,” McKenna adds, “all business should stop while the members reflect in silence and ask that the Spirit of God might give them discernment in their selection.”

Then this: “In the induction of the chair that follows, there should be the question, ‘Has God called you to this leadership position?’

“The prayer that follows should seal that call with the sacredness of the moment. If done in a consecration service for the board, its officers, and its members, the significance of the chair is communicated throughout the organization.”

McKenna cautions: “Discernment is a gift of the Holy Spirit that comes with spiritual maturity. It may well be the gift that defines Christ-centered leadership.”

That defining moment—and that powerful question—will eliminate speed-voting and will weed out chair candidates who aspire to resume-building versus Kingdom-building. 

McKenna has more—and it’s convicting: 
   • 4 assessment questions for the board chair
   • 5 deficient ways that boards elect chairs: Successor, Exemplar, Rotator, Politician, and Dissenter
   • Commenting on the Rotator chair scenario, McKenna notes: “The idea is that the ministry can survive incompetence for a short period of time.”
   • 1 priority: why being board chair must be that person’s number-one priority
   • 9 board chair roles: Missionary, Model, Mentor, Manager, Moderator, Mediator, Monitor, Master, and Maestro
  • 3 results when the board chair fails to focus on the clarity of the mission: “mushy, muddled, and almost meaningless”
  • 60 words in 30 seconds: Jesus’ elevator speech!

McKenna, retired president of two universities and one seminary, is author of numerous books, including Best Book #4: Stewards of a Sacred Trust: CEO Selection, Transition and Development for Boards of Christ-centered Organizations. Read my review to learn how he helps boards segment CEOs into six descriptive categories (several are unsavory!).

In Call of the Chair, McKenna defines an important fork-in-the-road for boards: “A major difference between Christ-centered ministries and for-profit or nonprofit organizations is in the question, ‘Who gets the credit?’”

The Transcendent Moment

Trust me—this book is very, very convicting. But when I reached the last few pages of the book—ready to wrap it up and move on—I was blown away by “The Transcendent Moment” on pages 116-119.

Whew! I won’t spoil the drama and impact for you—but at a board meeting just after reading the book, I asked a board member (he has a great radio voice), to read those pages during the agenda segment, “10 Minutes for Governance” (a lifelong learning feature the board enjoys at every board meeting). Here’s just one taste:

“…if the board is to rise to its spiritual potential, it needs a chair who brings the personal experience of Pentecost to the leadership of the board.”

Oh, my.

I will end with this helpful metaphor: “Like a one-stringed banjo player, the chair will always sound the note reminding the members that the board’s role is policy, not execution.” How knowledgeable is our staff on the roles and responsibilities of the board—and the board chair?

BOARD DISCUSSION: Discussing the policy governance term, “executive limitations,” McKenna illustrates: “In effect, God gave Adam and Eve a policy of executive limitation, saying, ‘Go until I say stop.’ He did not say, ‘Stop until I say go.’” Are the board’s executive limitations crystal clear to your CEO and all staff?

MORE RESOURCES: Check out the “40 Blogs. 40 Wednesdays.” color commentaries on Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, by Dan Busby and John Pearson, including Lesson 22, “The Most Underrated Board Position,” by guest blogger David McKenna.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Best Board Books #11: Boards That Make a Difference

If you want to spark some healthy conflict in your next conversation with ministry CEOs or senior pastors, throw this verbal grenade into the discussion: “Hey! What do you all think about policy governance?” 

I mention this because even though the majority of boards I work with say they function as “policy governance” boards, I don’t believe them—because their micro-managing practices are so blatant.

Book #11: 
Boards That Make a Difference: A New Design for Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations, by John Carver
(Order from Amazon)

According to Policy Governance Guru John Carver, “Governing by policy means governing out of policy in the sense that no board activity takes place without reference to policies. Most resolutions in board meetings will be motions to amend the policy structure in some way. Consequently, policy development is not an occasional board chore but its chief occupation.”

Consider John Carver’s insight on what he calls the flaws of “The Approval Syndrome.” They include: reactivity, sheer volume of material, mental misdirection, letting staff off the hook, unfairly putting staff on the hook, short-term bias, lack of clarity in the board’s contribution, and fragmentation (“a sequence of disconnected and unmanageably voluminous vertical slices of the whole…instead of a holistic, manageable fabric of horizontally connected policies”).

He adds, “We all profess that boards should deal with the big picture, but it is difficult to picture the forest by inspecting one tree at a time.”

One of my favorite Carver counter-intuitive commentaries describes what happens when a board delivers a “vote of confidence” for the CEO during a crisis situation.

In Carver’s policy governance bible, Boards That Make a Difference, he writes, “Curiously, there are times when the board goes through the approval process not intending to withhold authority from the CEO but to confirm it. A board might declare its supports for the CEO by cloaking some controversial executive decision with the prestige of the boardroom. Board motivation is usually expressed thus: ‘We want the staff (or others) to know the board is really behind the CEO on this.’ As long as the board and CEO understand that the decision is truly the CEO’s, this approval not only seems harmless but appears to be a healthy show of solidarity.”

Then Carver adds this zinger. “However, such a gesture of board support is called for only if the board has been sending weak signals about the nature of delegation. This kind of support is rarely warranted if the board has made it clear to all that all CEO decisions that are within board-stated bounds are always supported by the board. Official support of a specific action implies that such sporadic backup is necessary, or conversely, that the general philosophy of delegation is weak.”

Carver notes—in his massive 340-page hardback, with another 80 pages of resources and references—that “Board approvals are an unnecessary and dysfunctional method of board control, then, regardless of the ubiquity of the practice.”  He goes on—in succeeding chapters—to build the case for “a more proactive, fair, and detrivializing approach to fulfilling the board’s moral and legal obligation to control the organization.”

If no one on the senior team or board of your nonprofit organization or church is familiar with Carver’s brand of policy governance (he invented the term), this is the starting point. Whether you agree or disagree that this board approach is right for your organization, it’s important to understand the continuum of choices available—and to seek consensus on defining your current reality and where your preferred governance future lies. 

Interestingly, the book includes an excellent “ends” policy (a big Carver term) from Lancaster County Bible Church—defining the church’s sequential priorities. Evangelism is the church’s first priority.

Note: If 340 pages are a tad too much for you, Carver has a series of booklets, focusing on niche policy governance issues. Another option is to check out the “lean and mean” approach, favored by many including myself, of a 15- to 20-page Board Policies Manual, as described in the book, Good Governance for Nonprofits: Developing Principles and Policies for an Effective Board, by Fredric L. Laughlin and Robert C. Andringa. (See Best Board Books #10.)

BOARD DISCUSSION: Board members can’t always be blamed for governance dysfunction. Sometimes CEOs and senior team members invite confusion when they bring agenda items to the board—in essence, begging the board to micro-manage. Is it clear, in your organization, where the line falls between board decisions and staff decisions?

MORE RESOURCES: Check out the “40 Blogs. 40 Wednesdays.” color commentaries on Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, by Dan Busby and John Pearson, including Lesson 36, “Decrease Staff Reporting and Increase Heavy Lifting.”