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QUESTION 13: How Do We Stop From Micromanaging?

By John Pearson

The WORST Thing to Happen to a Board!

We all agree—board members should not micromanage the ministry. But think more deeply about this. Ram Charan writes:

“The worst thing to happen to a board is when the CEO and the management team lose respect for the board.”


Don’t skip this chapter—because at the root of lost respect is often a micromanaging board!

QUESTION 13 of 14: How Do We Stop From Micromanaging? Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask, by Ram Charan (Order from Amazon)

“A common complaint among chief executives,” writes Charan, is that board members “get into the weeds, digging into operational details that have little strategic value.” The problem: one board member inappropriately weighs in on a tasty topic—others join in on the fun—“and for the rest of the meeting the discussion never lifts to a higher altitude.”

There are numerous solutions for mitigating micromanagers, but it takes a savvy board chair, a grace-giving CEO, and other board members with self-awareness and high EQ (read my review of Emotional Intelligence 2.0).

Charan delivers more than a dozen insights on addressing the micromanaging board member. I appreciated these four take-aways:

1. Pause the PowerPoint. Sometimes, management may contribute to the problem by “providing too many slides and unnecessary details.”

2. Ask Quality Questions. “Asking questions of an operating nature is not in itself micromanaging, as long as the questions lead to insights about issues like strategy, performance, major investment decisions, key personnel, the choice of goals, or risk assessment.” (I often recommend the book, The Coaching Habit, which lists seven types of questions, including “The AWE Question: And What Else?)

3. Hint With Humor. Ram Charan notes that not all board members are self-aware, so the board chair (or Lead Director on many for-profit boards) must step up to the plate. Example: When a board member “started badgering a company’s IT director about its systems, the board’s Lead Director stepped in and joked, ‘Hey (Joe), are you looking for a job in IT?’ The tone was collegial and humorous, but the director got the point.” (Click here to read how Rich Stearns addressed micromanaging board members at World Vision U.S.)

4. Monitor 12-Month Metrics. “It also helps when the board has agreed upon the twelve-month priorities and is clear about the strategy and the milestones.” A dashboard “also helps board members stay on point.”

Boards expect CEOs to be excellent at delegation—but boards must also model a delegation culture. Healthy boards delegate to their CEOs. Unhealthy boards micromanage. “Delegation” is one of 30 short prayers in the little book by Richard Kriegbaum, Leadership Prayers. While every CEO should pray this prayer—this stunning and sobering prayer can also by prayed by board members:

“Help me to be clear about the distant goals and about who needs to do what to reach those goals. When I do this well, the spirit of the one to whom I delegate will respond with zeal. My own spirit will rejoice, and I will follow that person with confidence.

“By your grace, my leadership will either enhance or restrain the work of your Spirit in those who lead me, making them more effective or less effective. Those I chose to follow will have a profound impact on the results in the organization, and they will have a profound impact on me.”

Ram Charan writes: “The worst thing to happen to a board is when the CEO and the management team lose respect for the board.” Maybe the best thing to happen to a board is when the board selects the right CEO—and then trusts their CEO.

BOARDROOM DISCUSSION: Think back to the last time a board member was meandering into micromanagement mode. Did your board chair step up to the plate and address it appropriately? Are you ready for the next time it happens?

CHECK OUT THESE HELPFUL ECFA RESOURCES

• READ: Lesson 20, “Apply for a Staff Position and You Can Deal With That Issue! Help board members not to cross the line into operational details,” in Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom. (Click here to read the four-page chapter.) In his color commentary on this lesson, Richard Stearns writes, “Your board likely comprises professionals at the top of their fields, so it’s natural that they’re curious and opinionated about details in their realm of expertise. But just because they can wade into operational minutiae doesn’t mean they should. That’s not what a board of directors is designed to do.” (Click here to read the blog.)

• TOOL: Need a dashboard template for tracking CEO annual goals? Check out “Tool #11: Monthly Dashboard Report” in ECFA Tools and Templates for Effective Board Governance: Time-Saving Solutions for Your Board. (Read more here.)

 

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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