Just in case you haven’t heard the old joke:
“What’s the definition of a board?”
To many, a board is a necessary evil. Churches and other non-profits have to have them; the alternative is a singular leader with dictatorial powers, something that is never a good idea.
But the board which is carefully planned and executed, with training and careful member selection, can be a blessing to many, and greatly used by God.
The following are characteristics of the best boards I’ve seen. The board at its best is:
(1) A learning community. The members want to do a great job at their task and are willing to do what it takes to grow, both as individuals and as a team. Reading, listening, discussing, retreating: they are perpetually in learning mode.
Furthermore, they have an “open learning loop,” which means that they are not just listening to the same old voices; they are open to input from surprising sources and outside observers. The best boards understand that “group think” is a deadly disease and welcome those who challenge their comfortable assumptions.
(2) A team of truth speakers. The members of the truly effective team – and the best boards function as teams – know each other well enough to like each other, trust each other and tell each other the truth. They don’t go home with what marriage counselors call “withholds,” the vital (but scary) thoughts we’re thinking but won’t say. Not only do they not practice “group think” (above), they also disdain “group speak.”
Boards that practice status-quo-pleasing, passive-aggressive dishonesty are a waste of everyone’s time. Churches are well on their way to becoming cults when board members stop speaking the truth.
(3) Characterized by humility and meekness. I’m beating this drum a lot lately, but it’s so important. Humble board members can be taught, corrected and admonished. They are capable of changing their minds. Meek board members don’t have to have their own way. Are there any other human characteristics that are more important for those who seek to lead as part of a team?
Humility and meekness create a willingness to pray until the answer comes, a practice the Bible calls “waiting on the Lord.” As much as we hate waiting, it’s no wonder that we don’t want to do this. But God is sovereign and cannot be cajoled into giving “express-guidance.”
(4) Dedicated to hiring the right kind of executive leader. I’m using this term as a generic designation for the person with the CEO-type job description who is accountable to the board. The best boards think and pray long and hard about the kind of leader who is needed
They resist the temptations to: unthinkingly hire a new version of the last executive leader, cave in to the demands of some power group that wants their kind of leader, grab hold of the internal candidate who just happens to be available, or overreact to the weaknesses of the last leader and hire his/her opposite.
(5) Devoted to the health and well-being of the organization. Its members have the courage to do what needs to be done to advance the mission of the ministry. They are not so devoted to the person of the executive leader, or any other person (spouses, financial supporters, long-time members, power-brokers, etc.) that they are hindered from doing the right thing for the ministry.
This means that they do not seek and keep their positions on the board in order to represent a constituency or protect their own vested interests:
“I’m here so the seniors still have a voice in this church.”
“Somebody has to advocate for the Sunday School”
“I’m trying to keep the executive director from ruining this great, old organization”
Next week I’ll share a few more characteristics of the board at its best but I’m going to “flash forward” and name the two people who have the power to develop great boards:
- The board chair. It’s not the board chairperson’s job to lead the organization/ministry, but it is this individual’s job to lead and manage the Great board chairs work closely with their executive leaders to create extraordinary boards.
- The executive leader. In most Christian organizations, the only person who has the knowledge, skill and opportunity to train a great board chairman is the executive leader (the senior or solo pastor if we’re discussing a church).
Leaders who are dissatisfied with their current board and board chair need to put some serious prayer and effort into correcting the situation. In most cases, this effort is richly rewarded. Blessed is the leader who enjoys a “tight” relationship with the board chair, with whom he shares breakfast a few days in advance of every board meeting.