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Called to Serve: When Your Organization Is Bleeding and Boring Board Members

By John Pearson

Note: This is No. 21 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: “Any diligent board suffers certain tensions. Perhaps this letter should be labeled ‘dire warnings.’”

Dire warnings! Mention those words and you’ll scare off all the recruits you have in your board prospect pipeline. But—think about this—the very candidates you want to invite onto the board are those who drink deeply from the reality cup and understand, like Max De Pree, that there are numerous tensions that spoil a healthy boardroom and a deeply satisfying board experience.

De Pree mentions several tensions:
• “Good people disagree,
• Do a little politicking,
• Try to make decisions in the bathroom (the worst form of exclusion),
• And come to meetings totally unprepared.”

Add your own dozen or more bullet points here…

I was struck, mostly, by his insightful acknowledgment that money is never the problem—or the solution to living with tensions. (My gut: most boards and CEO don’t yet believe this.)

De Pree notes that one of the “certain tensions” is that boards “need to deal constructively with constraints.” He adds:

“Often people think that with a few more resources, their problems will disappear. Of course, this is not true. Few of us ever have all the resources we wish for. Our job is to help board members see that constraints are a fact of life. They are—believe me—along with reasoned restraint, one of the secrets to outstanding performance. Constraints perceived and understood are especially valuable to the creative processes that feed our strategic thinking. In fact, Charles Eames, perhaps the most famous industrial designer of this century, often said that constraints are liberating.

Huh? Our boards must think about this—deeply, strategically, discerningly, spiritually.

De Pree mentions other tensions—and his brief page on tensions created by a crisis is a must-read. Almost as a throw-away line, he notes this: “Sometimes tensions develop into a crisis…the organization is bleeding and boring board members.” That’s another PowerPoint-worthy slide. Is your board bleeding or boring board members—or both?

Perhaps the secret to living with tensions in the boardroom is to first understand that sin exists, yet grace abounds. (Romans 5:20)

BOARD DISCUSSION: Do we address governance tensions appropriately? Are we bleeding and boring board members? Discuss!

 

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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