Tuesday, September 29, 2020

DEAR JOHN: Books, Board Chairs, and Boredom

Based on my inbox, I’m wondering if it’s time to start a “Dear John” newspaper column? (You do remember newspapers, right?) I doubt if I’ll ever replace “Dear Abby,” but—here goes.

DEAR JOHN: I’ve noticed that you tend to answer board governance questions with “Read this book!” This isn’t the 1900s, Pearson! It’s 2020 and no one reads book anymore! Would you please just answer the question—and stop assigning homework to your readers? –A NON-READER IN REDDING

DEAR NON-READER: Charlie “Tremendous” Jones said, “You are today what you’ll be five years from now, except for the people you meet and the books you read.” And by the way, you must have read this governance blog somewhere—so apparently you are a reader. Way to go! And since you asked, I’d recommend you read The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life: How to Get More Books in Your Life and More Life from Your Books, by Steve Leveen. Note his caveat: “Do not set out to live a well-read life but rather your well-read life. No one can be well-read using someone else’s reading list.” (Read my review.) 

DEAR JOHN: I read in one of the Dan Busby/John Pearson governance books that you have endured more than 500 board meetings. I affirm your word choice. I, too, have endured excruciatingly dysfunctional board meetings—and I’m the board chair (LOL!). What one book would you recommend I read to minimize the dysfunction and maximize our board’s effectiveness? –DYSFUNCTIONAL IN DENVER

DEAR DYSFUNCTIONAL: I’m so sorry you are not finding board meetings to be a joy. They should be. One of my friends, Mike Pate, says that board meeting days are the best days of the month for him. Click here to read Lesson 11 from More Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom: Effectiveness, Excellence, Elephants! “Thrive With Four Kingdom Values” is a great outline for a devotional thought at your next board meeting: Discernment, Deployment, Commitment, and Enjoyment. But…if you’re looking for one book on enriching your board chair competencies, read David McKenna’s powerful book, Call of the Chair: Leading the Board of the Christ-centered Ministry. He includes four assessment questions for the board chair—all convicting! 
(Read my review.)

And…one last thought. Not every board member has the wiring, the spiritual gifting, and the temperament to be a board chair. If this role doesn’t fit you—it’s OK to step down. Ask the Lord and a trusted friend what you should do.

DEAR JOHN: During this crazy coronavirus era, our board has cancelled our annual board retreat and—instead (wait for it…)—we’re meeting via Zoom for eight hours on a Saturday. Any ideas to keep the engagement high and the boredom low? –ZOOMED-OUT IN ZION

DEAR ZOOMED-OUT: You…and thousands of other boards…are mitigating COVID-19 in creative ways. Congrats! I wish I knew more about your board—and where you are, for example, on what Michael Hyatt calls the “Vision Arc” in his new book, The Vision-Driven Leader. His graph of the vision arc includes seven phases of the typical organizational trajectory through time (similar to Jim Collins’ five stages). If you don’t interrupt the trajectory, look where it leads you: Startup, Rising, Transitioning, Mature, Legacy, Zombie, Dead! (Read my review.) 

Generally—whatever stage you’re in—I’ve found that an excellent engagement exercise is to ask each board member to present a 10-minute “trendspotting” report—on a targeted topic of relevance to your ministry. A one-page template and instructions are included in “Tool #15: Board Retreat Trend-Spotting Exercise” in ECFA Tools and Templates for Effective Board Governance. Have fun—and award Chick-fil-A gift cards to all presenters who finish on time!

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

(David McKenna in Call of the Chair)

Monday, September 14, 2020

“Where Was the Board?” A Board Ambassador BHAG

Imagine if you magically received ten dollars every time you heard or read the question, “Where was the board?”
I’m guessing you’d have some serious money in your savings account.

When reporters, bloggers, podcasters, and even donors and staff, ask “Where was the board?”—it’s usually in response to an organizational, financial, moral, or leadership crisis. But “Where was the board” is the wrong question. It’s certainly not the first question.

The question often showcases a foundational lack in understanding the basic roles and responsibilities of the typical governing board. Where was the board? Likely the board was present—but asleep at the wheel. But don’t blame podcasters, bloggers, and reporters for creating inappropriate expectations of the board. You gotta blame the board!

Here’s my Big Holy Audacious Goal (BHAG) for educating America! Add a new responsibility to the typical board member job description: “Board Ambassador.” Maybe something like this:

“Here at XYZ Ministry, every board member is also a Board Ambassador. We’ll equip you to leverage your circle of influence—and every appropriate opportunity—to communicate the mission of our ministry and the important role of the board in guiding and guarding the future in God-honoring ways. (What the board does and does not do!) As Board Ambassador, you’ll also be educating, mentoring, and inspiring the next generation of board members!” 

When the board chair “deputizes” every new and veteran board member with the “Board Ambassador” title, at least five good things should happen. Ask these five questions NOW and you’ll hear fewer “Where was the board?” questions later, we pray.

#1. To prepare for this new role, every board member will dust off the organization’s mission, vision, and values statements (and memorize them)—and review them regularly. 
     • Question: “Is the board in alignment with what God is calling them to do?” (Resource)

 #2. The board member job description will be fresh and relevant—and include “owning” the strategy and strategic plan and include holding the CEO accountable for three to five annual SMART goals. 
     • Question: “What’s the role of the CEO and when does the board conduct and address the CEO’s annual performance review?” (Resource)

#3. The board chair will ensure that a Board Policies Manual (think “corral”) is in writing and referenced at most board meetings. 
     • Question: “Is the board confident that the CEO, the board, and the staff are living within the policy (operating inside the policy fences established by the board)? How do we know?” (Resource)

#4. Every board member will look for opportunities to be the organization’s ambassador for educating people in good governance practices. 
     • Question: “Does my spouse, my pastor, my business colleagues, and people in my circle of influence, understand the role of the governing board?” (Resource)

#5. Board meetings and agendas will be more focused on the role of the board in guarding and guiding—versus listening to non-stop staff reports that pull board members into the weeds. 
     • Question: “Is the board living out the 80/20 Rule: Investing 80 percent of board work on future ministry opportunities—not rehashing the past?” (Resource)

Imagine…if all board members of all Christ-centered organization boards in North America were equipped and passionate about elevating the importance of God-honoring governance! Board members would be better at their board jobs—and maybe it would activate a holy ripple effect of good governance and stellar ministry leadership.

Then…instead of bloggers, podcasters, and reporters asking, “Where was the board?”—they’d be asking, “How do I get recruited to that board?”

Start paying yourself ten dollars for every time someone asks you, “How do I get recruited to that board?”

BOARD DISCUSSION: Who will take the lead on creating a “Board Ambassador” culture on our board?

MORE RESOURCES: You’re a more effective mentor and influencer of others when you are competent yourself, so pick a resource below to help refresh your board’s passion and understanding of their important governance roles and responsibilities:
     • Index to 30 blogs: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree
     • Best Board Books: Index to 18 Good Governance Stimulators
     • Index to Ram Charan’s 14 Questions for Board Members + 3 Next Steps
     • Index to 22 Time-Saving Governance Tools and Templates