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03 Nov '08

Executive Limitations: Defining the boundaries and creating freedom

Posted by T.J. Addington in church boards, church leadership, Healthy leaders
In the governance world there is a concept called "Executive Limitations" which describe those things that the Senior leader, whether pastor, or CEO of a ministry cannot do without board agreement. It is a concept which actually provides great freedom to the senior leader because there is clarity on their scope of authority and freedom to do what is not specified as a limitation.

Executive limitations when combined with an annual ministry plan (not the subject of this blog) give the senior leader freedom to lead in those areas that are not defined as an executive limitation.

Lets, take an example of a church of 400 and consider what might be examples of executive limitations of the senior pastor:

The Senior Pastor cannot:

-engage in any illegal or unethical behavior or allow staff to do so

-exceed the annual budget

-engage in the sale or purchase of property

-hire or fire staff without board consultation

-make major programming changes without board consultation

-Violate or change the mission, guiding principles, central ministry focus or culture defined for the church

-Violate policies determined by the board

-Allow any conflicts of interest among staff

The size of the church would determine the kinds of executive limitations placed on its senior leader. It is far easier to state what the senior leader cannot do than to list all that they can and are expected to do. Thus, the leader is given freedom within the bounds of the ministry philosophy of the church to lead apart from whatever executive limitations are placed on them by the board. Those issues are reserved as board prerogatives.

The list of executive limitations can be added to or subtracted from depending on the size of the church and issues that come up. The goal with executive limitations is to clarify the authority of the senior leader to lead. In many areas the senior leader has the authority to lead as they see fit. In other areas, the board limits the authority because those issues are "board issues."

There is another category that is critical for a healthy board/senior leader relationship and that is the whole host of things that the board should be appraised of - even if it has not limited the authority of the senior leader. No board likes surprises,
see my previous post, and the better the senior leader keeps the board appraised of their thinking, plans and intentions, the better the trust and understanding between board and senior staff.

Executive limitations must always be coupled with a clear job description of the
Key Result Areas that define success for the senior leader. KRA's define the proactive job of the leader and executive limitations define the prerogatives of the board and require board approval.

There should be a board job description that lays out the purpose,
ground rules and job of the board. That further clarifies what issues are the responsibility of the board and what are the responsibility of the senior leader.