19 Jan '14
Practices of healthy boards
In few instances will an organization or a congregation rise above the quality, practices, spiritual sensitivity or missional commitment of its senior board. That is a sobering thought if you are a board member - but it is true and can be verified in almost every instance. Given that fact, there is nothing more important than for us to ensure that our boards are healthy. In fact, I would love for you to share this blog with the board you are serving on and see what it generates in discussion.
Healthy boards practice deep sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. In order for that to be true it means that they set aside regular and significant time for prayer and for the seeking of God's will for their church or organization - and then they listen for His voice. This includes regular time in the word where His voice has already spoken on critical matters. Spiritual leadership requires spiritual sensitivity and time with the One on whose behalf we lead. Without this practice we will not be His leaders in the full sense of the word.
Healthy boards always clarify the key focus of the church and then they stick with that clarity. Specifically, they clarify the mission, the guiding principles by which the organization will operate, the central ministry focus which must be practiced in all they do and the culture they are intent on creating. Once they are clear, everything they do in programming, staffing, initiatives, teaching and priorities is designed to stay in line with the missional clarity they have. Boards that do not have clarity, do not stick to their clarity or keep changing their clarity (which is not clarity at all) confuse their people and dilute their effectiveness. Healthy boards bring great clarity to everything the organization does.
Healthy boards never allow elephants to exist without addressing them directly. Elephants are those topics that everyone knows are present but no one wants to bring up because it will be uncomfortable. Here is a principle to consider. Elephants are elephants precisely because they are threats to the organization and good leaders always address threats to the organization. Ignoring elephants, trying to pretend they are not there or not having the courage to name and discuss them allows those very issues to hurt what you are trying to accomplish. Take elephants seriously. They are the very issues you must address if you are going to move forward in health. If there are elephants on your board you have symptoms of problems.
Healthy boards operate with a board covenant which spells out the rules of engagement in terms of how board members relate to one another. This includes agreement on keeping short accounts, dealing with conflict, the role of robust, honest dialogue in board meetings and the full support of decisions made once they are made. A signed board covenant allows you to create a healthy board culture, define board expectations and hold members accountable if they should go south.
Healthy boards are clear on the missional results they want for their church or organization and evaluate those results on a regular basis. This is why "clarity" is so important above. With clarity you can evaluate ministry results. Without clarity it is impossible to do so because you don't know what you are measuring. It is hard work to determine how you measure results in a ministry setting but it is one of the most important things boards do.
Healthy boards know the difference between management of day to day operations and the core directional issues, policies and thinking about the future. They delegate management of day to day issues to staff or others and keep their focus on the larger picture including the health of the church.
Healthy boards never allow themselves to be divided into factions. All board members are there to serve the ministry as a whole. When boards develop separate factions (If you have them on your board you know what I am talking about) the board is no longer serving the whole but has divided into those who support a part and are fighting for that part (or individual). This in itself is a sign that there are elephants in the room that have not been dealt with and that there is not clarity around which the whole board is focused and that there is not the ability to evaluate ministry success. Divided boards are deeply symptomatic of dishealth. To get to healthy they must really go back to the basics and agree that everyone on the board is there to serve the whole rather than to guard a part.
I have three challenges for you if any of these practices of healthy boards are not practices of your board. First, share this blog with them as a way of sparking some good discussion. Second, my two books, High Impact Church Boards, and Leading From The Sandbox are written for board members to get to the highest level of health possible. The higher the level of health of your board, the higher the missional effectiveness of your organization or church. and that is why we serve as board members. I hope you will take the challenge.