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DEAR JOHN: Books, Board Chairs, and Boredom

By John Pearson

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 books 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 canceled 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!

DISCERN

“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)

 

 

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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