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Called to Serve: The Ten-Foot Pole Tension

By John Pearson

Note: This is No. 22 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.

Max De Pree: “In the letter on the role of trustees, I reviewed some ideas on the matter of evaluating a board member’s performance. This is guaranteed to produce tension. Most boards and committees I know won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole.

In another “dire warning” on living with tensions in the boardroom, De Pree challenges and inspires healthy boards to look in the mirror—but he acknowledges this is tough duty. He adds:

“Suggesting that a volunteer be evaluated seems a little crass, and it probably is—
• unless we’re serious about our mission,
• unless we truly believe members want to grow and reach their potential and serve society,
• unless we take our clients seriously,
• unless we respect our donors.”

He closes with, “Maybe we ought to be ready to deal with this tension.”

I’ve observed several ways that healthy, God-honoring boards assess their own performance:

#1. Annual Self-Assessment Survey. The ECFA Knowledge Center has three sample board self-evaluation forms (for the board, for an individual board member, and for feedback on a board colleague). Click here to download the forms.

#2. Board Meeting Quick Assessment. Much like Ken Blanchard’s advice in The One Minute Manager (one-minute praisings and one-minute reprimands), healthy boards don’t wait until year-end to address inappropriate board member conduct. So, some boards use a paper or verbal feedback tool at the end of every board meeting. (See “Quick Fix Tools for Board Self-Assessments.”)

#3. Third Party Assessment. >True, most boards wait until the crisis to call in the cavalry. But healthy boards--when times are good--invite a third party (a consultant or another experienced CEO or board chair) to conduct a “healthy boards assessment” with one-on-one phone calls, an online survey, and then a report and recommendation. This often follows the consultant’s observation of a board meeting—where the true culture and Christ-centeredness of the board is best revealed.

Peter Drucker wrote, “Self-assessment is the first action requirement of leadership: the constant resharpening, constant refocusing, never really being satisfied.” That aspiration, in my theology, is beautifully biblical!

BOARD DISCUSSION: Has your board addressed this common tension—board member evaluation and assessment? How long is your board’s pole?

 

This article was originally posted on the “Governance of Christ-Centered Organizations” blog, hosted by ECFA.
John Pearson, a board governance consultant and author, was ECFA’s governance blogger from 2011 to 2020.
© 2021, ECFA and John Pearson. All rights reserved.


This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.

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