Is Your Board Color Blind to Hazardous Condition Signs?

What color is your boardroom flag?


by Dan Busby and John Pearson


Our board was lulled into complacency
and did not recognize the color of the flag flying in the board room.
We thought the flags were green long after
they had turned to yellow.


Living near Indianapolis for several years, Dan occasionally stopped by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, also known as the Brickyard, to experience the pre-race time trials.

At race tracks, flags are used to indicate track conditions and communicate important messages to drivers. The starter waves the flags atop a flag stand near the start/finish line.

The solid green flag is waved by the official to start the race. During a race, it is displayed at the end of a caution period or temporary delay to indicate that the race is restarting.

The solid yellow flag, or caution flag, requires drivers to slow down due to a hazard on the track—typically an accident, a stopped car, debris, or light rain.

The solid red flag is displayed when conditions are too dangerous to continue the race.

In every board meeting, there are flags that fly—green, yellow, or red—corresponding to the current atmosphere in the boardroom. The color of the flags can go through the entire spectrum in one meeting. In some cases, a flag of one color may fly for the entire meeting or most of it.

Hopefully, every board meeting begins with a green flag flying. However, a red flag may have been flying at the end of the last board meeting, and it could have a carryover impact on the current meeting.

Does your board recognize the color of the flag flying in the boardroom, or is the board color-blind? Boards that know the color of the flag are in a position to more readily address issues that may cause “hazardous conditions.”

Here are three examples of yellow and red flags:

  1. Too much intensity. The boardroom discussion begins positively; great input and collegiality—green flag. Then a new topic is introduced, and there is passionate discussion. Suddenly passion turns to intensity—too much intensity—yellow flag. Intensity changes to some harsh words between two board members—red flag.

Recognizing the change in the flags during this discussion can help the board chair diffuse an otherwise ugly situation.

  1. Too little intensity. You have likely attended a board meeting that suffered from boredom. There was little engagement by the board—the board members were simply going through the motions. Some members were texting; others were answering emails. It was a yellow-flag meeting from start to finish.
  1. Failure to distinguish between important and routine financial concerns. A minor deficit for one year probably doesn’t even raise a yellow flag. However, a large annual deficit qualifies for at least a yellow flag, and the larger it is, the more likely it is to become a red flag.

Here is a general rule you can depend on: Yellow flags are on the income statement. Red flags are on the balance sheet. Boards that focus too much of their attention on the income statement may miss the red flags on the balance sheet.

There are many reasons why boards miss the color of the flags in the boardroom. These include disengaged boards, weak fiscal controls, misunderstanding of roles and responsi­bilities, and lack of timely information. More frequently, boards are just unaware of the three colored flags—and what they mean.

Sensitivity to the atmosphere is one of the most critical competencies for any board member. Some people feel a room easily and others have little or no sensitivity to the atmos­phere,” says Danny de Armas, Senior Associate Pastor of First Baptist Church of Orlando. “One who is more aware of atmosphere will be able to make a speedier adjustment as the atmosphere changes during a meeting. This can be very useful to move the meeting back to green quickly and appropriately. In time, we can all learn to avoid the natural red flag factors. Doing so will keep our meetings productive and pleasant—ensuring continued participation by high capacity leaders.”[1]



Though we may dream of only green flags,
in nearly every board meeting,
there are yellow or red hazard flags that fly.
Boards that recognize the color of the flags
are in a better position to run the race set before them.

  Board Action Steps:

  1. Rate: How would you rate the sensitivity of your board to observing the colors of flags in the boardroom? If the rating isn’t high, determine how to increase the board’s sensitivity quotient.

  2. Recognize: Commit to discerning the color of the flags that are flying in future board meetings.[2]

  3. Reflect: At the end of each board meeting, assess how the board is doing in its sensitivity to the color of boardroom flags.



Lord, help our board to be sensitive to the board­room atmosphere
and the color of the flags that are flying. Amen.



[1] Danny de Armas, “Is Your Board Colorblind?” Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom (blog), July 28, 2018, http://nonprofitboardroom.blogspot.com/2018/07/lesson-35-is-your-board-color-blind.html.

[2] For an excellent guide to growing in discernment as a board, see Ruth Haley Barton, Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012).


From Lessons From the Church Boardroom: 40 Insights for Exceptional Governance, ECFAPress, 2018, www.ECFA.Church/KnowledgeCenter.

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.