Why Good Governance is Essential and Why Who You Choose as a Chair Matters

In previous posts, I have discussed the role of a chair, why policy matters, and other types of questions. Today I want to specifically tackle two things because they are burning in my heart and I need a constructive outlet.

Why Good Governance is Essential

Good governance is essential because it is the way in which we manage organizations at a high level, staying out of the day to day operations. Boards hire experts who can manage though on board-specified outcomes.

By all board members, a lack of understanding of governance, especially for a governance board, can lead to all kind all kinds of problems:

  • Dominant board member(s) who run off as mavericks doing non-board business and making decisions.
  • Directors’ energy being focussed on and drained by non-governance conversations.
  • The CEO can lack clarity on what’s expected of him or her when boards are not following a systematic approach in their style of governing. This, in turn, affects the entire organization. Clarity matters. Good governing helps us get that much-needed clarity and helps us to easily identify when we are off track and need a course correction.
  • A poor reputation among stakeholders. I love this quote: “Reputation — good governance delivers good products which in turn lead to good business performance. The reputation of a company can make or break it in the market.”1

Why Who You Choose as a Chair Matters

It’s often too late when boards realize they put the wrong person in the role of chair. Boards find themselves with a poor reputation, with unhappy stakeholders, repeatedly cleaning up messes from a maverick,  or feeling like they have spent one, two, or perhaps several years serving, only to look back wondering what was actually accomplished. Policies serve as roadmaps.

Before I had studied board governance, I actually didn’t understand the value of a good chair. I am better studied now and I can easily see when a chair is acting as an effective chair or when he or she is acting without the knowledge of governance. Please hear me: nice, smart, likable people can be in that position, but it doesn’t mean that it was a good choice and that a board should not make a course correction as quickly as possible if they feel the board chair is not representing the board well or helping the board govern well. Or better yet, make sure that whoever is chosen as chair undergoes ongoing training in the area of good governance. They are, after all, leading the board, and should be doing so with best practices.

Chairs model the way, I’ve said that before. And a huge part of the role of chair is to ensure the board is following its own policies – that’s why they are also often referred to as the Chief Governing Officer.  The chair, too, is expected to be accountable for and accountable to the board for doing just that. Directors, use your voice, ask good questions of your chair, and never be afraid to challenge policy violations!

I just cannot stress this enough, choose wisely who the chair is because if left unchecked, disaster can happen. If we want enduring governance, then board development in this area is of critical concern. Recommendation: As a collective board, either develop someone who is willing to be trained in this area or actively seeks someone who has experience in this area – the organization you are entrusted with governing needs the best from its board.

Most boards have a budget, make sure you allocate some of it to invest in growing the capacity of the board in its responsibility to govern.

Questions about board governance, please post them in the comment section. Got any good articles about good board governance, please link them in the comments section.

Have an amazing day!

Reverend Carmen Kampman

 

 

Board Series: Board Size, Why Policy?, and Other Questions

Good morning (or afternoon or evening, depending on where you are)!

In the wake of several conversations that, in one way or another, had to do with board governance, I’m writing this blog post to address some of the great questions I have recently heard people asking.

What is a good size for a board? Well, that depends on the type of organization and what you are together trying to accomplish. For me, in the contexts I serve, 7-9 is an ideal number. Governance Today writes a great article on this, you can read that here. The important thing for any board is that they be able to accomplish that which they’ve been tasked to do.

Why policy matters? Policy – and reviewing it and revising it as needed – matters because policy allows a board to do its work. Policies are guiding documents that contain how that work is to be accomplished. Policy is owned by the board, is the work of the board, and empowers the board to speak with one voice. Another way of looking at this is it provides the board and CEO with empowering boundaries.

What if I want to manage versus govern? (Such a great question that I heard last night at a Town Hall meeting.) If you want to manage, then seek out a managing board or apply for a management position within an organization that you would like to manage and feel you have something of value to contribute. It is highly disruptive and an energy drain for all board members when one (or more) members want to be in the management domain versus the governing domain. I have seen this totally derail a board, sometimes for years.

Is governing hard? That’s an interesting question. Personally, I found governance hard when I was uneducated about what it was and why it mattered. Board work is good and necessary work, and, like any ministry worth stewarding well, requires hard work – from everyone. And it requires a commitment from all board members to grow and lean in together in order that they can become the most effective stewards they can be.

This is why taking seriously board development opportunities matters.

Not only that, having an effective chair really matters! To read more about the role of a chair, see my post here.

If you’re considering board service, see some suggestions on my blog post here.

Have an amazing day!

Reverend Carmen Kampman

p.s. In case you didn’t know, my ordination took place April 22, 2018.

 

 

Board Series: What is Board Governance?

I’ve titled this post What is Board Governance? because I have often heard people ask this very question or a variation of this question.

Board Governance is the job required to be done by the Board of Directors on a board. But before we dive into this a little further, it’s important to keep in mind the following:

  • A board collectively exists to steward the wishes of the ownership (stakeholders) of an organization. If you are a board member, it is imperative that you understand for whom and for what benefit your role exists.

Board governance then, in a most simplified form, is seeking to know the wishes of the ownership (stakeholders), translating that into desired outcomes (Ends), setting empowering boundaries for those hired (CEO) to achieve those Ends, and monitoring to ensure the Ends are being produced. Here is a great little video that teaches this.

How the board builds credibility with its’ owners is by, among other things, establishing how it is going to behave and make decisions – this is usually written as policy. And, by actively understanding and living within their own empowering boundaries/policies, boards are enabled to speak with one voice.

When one or more board members fail to operate within policy, it comprises the integrity of the entire board and can also have detrimental effects on an entire organization. (I could share some stories here that would make you cringe, but that is not the purpose of my post.)

Hope that helps you to understand a little better what Board Governance is, it’s the responsibility of the Board of Directors.

Have a great day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Board Series: The Role of the Chair

 

I am reposting this post because I thought it had been lost forever when I transferred my blog platform, but I was able to find it again in the backups I had done. In keeping with my board series theme from last week, today I want to write about the role of the chair. I am particularly interested in this because of my experience that began a few years back while serving on my first board.

At the beginning of my 2nd year of a 3-year term, I was voted to be the Vice-Chair. I was not, however, to remain in that position for very long as our then elected Chair resigned and it was then that I found myself in the position of Chair. The decision to vote for Chair was something I let the board decide as I was quite content to stay as Vice-Chair because I knew there was a lot to learn.  I had no clue, yet felt like God was calling me to this.  So I did what I always do when I find myself out of my element, I read books, I prayed, I watched video tutorials, and I then invited the board to go on a journey with me as I learned to chair effectively. They were a gracious bunch.
I fumbled from time to time but overall I did an excellent job. I am proud of those years as I truly believe I served with excellence and understanding – as much understanding as one can have when they are learning as they go.
Over the years I have reflected on that time and wished there was more material that spoke to the role of the chair. Last week my wish came true when on my bosses bookshelf I saw this book: The Call of the Chair: Leading the Board of the Christ-centered Ministry by David L. McKenna.
That book highlighted for me so many of the things I instinctively thought a chair’s role ought to be and then some. You see, for me, I saw my chair role as that of a servant-shepherd, guiding the board to places we needed to be and towards decisions we needed to make. Mackenna would describe the call of a board chair this way:

The board chair of the Christ-centred ministry must be called of God to the position, exemplify Christ in qualifications, exercise Spirit-guided discernment in functions, and be accountable to God for performance. 1

But to break it down a bit further, here are some expectations of a board chair (this will not be an exhaustive list):

  • They are to manage the board, ensuring that the board stays true to its mission, handles itself with integrity, stays within the empowering boundaries it has set for itself and makes policy changes when appropriate and necessary.
  • They must cultivate, work collaboratively with, and nurture a good working relationship with the CEO, at times also serving as a coach to the CEO. Both are on the same team. A board goes toxic really fast if relationships are not appropriately attended to.
  • They must manage and bring to the forefront the priorities of the board. Priorities such as policy-making and monitoring as well as strategic planning.
  • They need to plan wisely for board succession. This is something I would do very differently if ever in a board chair position again as I have seen the negative effects of having the wrong person in a chair position.

Those are but just a few of a chair’s responsibility, but I hope you’ll find them helpful as you consider the possibility of being a board member. And remember, every competent chair will bring their own unique gift set to the role, but there are things, such as I’ve listed above, that should never be compromised. The chair is a leader among leaders, and though they have no authority other than what’s been entrusted to him or her by the board, the chair role is a vital position and a board chair needs to be carefully selected.
Serve well in whatever context you’ve been called to,
Carmen

Board Series: So they want you on the board. Things you should consider before saying Yes.

This is another of the blog posts I thought had been lost – so thankful it’s not. Enjoy!

This is a blog post for those of us who have been asked to consider being a board member (director) on a board. For those of you experienced with boards and what that entails you may find this post elementary given your years of experience, but if your new to this type of role, you’ll likely find this helpful.
Here are some questions to both ask and consider before you give an answer:

  • Why does this board exist? The reason for a boards existence matters! It will be critical for you to know whether or not the current board has clarity on why they exist in the first place. And no, their reason for existence is not the organization’s mission statement, a board services a purpose. To be fair, not all boards understand this, but for a board to be fruitful, it must understand, articulate, and live their mission.
  • What type of board is it that you’re being asked to be a part of? Is it a governing board, a working board, a management board, another type of board? Get to know the differences if you are not sure what I’m talking about.
  • What are the mission, vision, and values of the organization you are being asked to serve?  Can you be in alignment with these? If not, say no immediately! The organization needs people who are in alignment.
  • Do I understand the role of a board member and the board’s responsibilities?
  • What needs does the current board have and what skill set(s) is the current board looking for? Once you figure that out, ask yourself if you have what they’re looking for.  It is never helpful on a board to have people who all have the same gift set. The goal on any board is to have the right kinds of gifts so that together, as a group, there is richer wisdom because of the diversity and experience.
  • What kind of board development opportunities are available for and accessible to board members, and is the board serious about its own growth and development? How have they actionably demonstrated that?
  • How often does the board meet?  How much time is required, approximately, for a member to be well prepared for a meeting?
  • Aside from board meetings, what other types of meetings or functions are board members encouraged/expected to attend? Is this doable for you?
  • What other questions might you add? Might you request to sit in on a meeting or two to get a feel for the current dynamics?

I have a growing passion for board governance, board development, and board excellence which started in my first year of serving on board and continues to this day in my current study of board governance.
My experience is limited to not for profit organizations where board members are all volunteers, and these are all questions I wish someone had told me to ask before I said my first yes. I hope these questions empower you in your decision-making journey.
If you have questions you’d add to my above list, please put them in a comment below.

Happy serving,

Carmen

Into Your Hands Jesus, I Commit My Life

My journal entry from today’s devotions.

It was with a fierce determination that you entered this day, the day we call Good Friday, over 2000 years ago.

I love you too Jesus. I can’t imagine, not really, what that day must have been like for you. Betrayed by a disciple, abandoned by others – yet you remained determined. Read More

Board Series: Considering Being a Board Member? Things You Should Consider

Hope everyone is having a great day!

Woke up this morning after last night attending a fantastically led Town Hall meeting for the membership of the school where my children attend, and I woke up this morning thinking about the role of a board member and things potential board members should consider before seeking to be on a board.

Here are some thoughts for you to consider:

  • Know why that particular board exists. The reason for a boards existence is critical and understanding its mission (its reason for existence) and values (how they behave) is important for you to know.
  • Get curious and direct questions to the board if you need clarity on how the board is health wise and what strengths they feel are missing around the table that might assist in furthering the effectiveness of the board and its mission.
  • Consider your motives for why you want to be on the board. Let’s say for example that you want an organization to be better managed, if that is true and you’re seeking a position on a governing board, you’re in the wrong area. You’d be better off seeking a position within the organization. Jim Brown in his book The Imperfect Board Member rightly says, “The secret to effectiveness is understanding the different roles within an organization and how those roles relate.”1 
  • It’s important for you to know yourself and be able to article what strengths you could bring to the table of leadership.
  • It’s important to also know who and for what purposes your seeking to serve. Brown also provides great insight by stating this: “Problems arise when board members talk as customers and expect to be heard as owners.”2 
  • Unless you have previously served on the particular board you’re hoping to become a part of, please be aware that it is going to take you some time to understand the guiding documents of the board. By guiding documents I mean its bylaws, MOAs, and everything contained in its Board Policy Manual, to start.
  • Get clear up front on the level of commitment that will be required of you. Included in that would be asking how long a board term is and what monthly commitments could look like. Do not commit if you’re unable to fulfill that obligation because it directly affects the ability of the whole board to do its work.
  • Ask how the board is seeking to develop itself. Board development should always be a critically important element of any governing board. As directors develop and grow together, it increases their fruitfulness.
  • Because a board is required to know the financial landscape of the organization, it is entirely okay to be asking the board what the financial statements look like.

Those are just a few of my morning thoughts. I hope you find them helpful. Please comment below if you have other things you think would be important to consider.

Have an amazing day!

 

p.s. I highly recommend reading Jim Brown’s book The Imperfect Board Member.

Board Series: What Do Governing Boards Do?

*Note: All of my posts on governing boards will be about nonprofit boards who have moral ownership they are accountable to.

When switching my website to a new platform I, unfortunately, lost several of my posts, most of which had to do with Board Governance and board work. So frustrating! However, it can be argued that having to rewrite something also reinforces ones learning. So here we go!

Read More

God’s in the Waiting

Be still my soul,  God is in the waiting.

He’s present, patient, working. Sometimes I see Holy Spirit at work, others times I don’t – but I know God is always at work.

From ages past no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,  no eye has seen any God besides you,  who works for those who wait for him. Isa 64:4

He’s at work in my waking hours. He’s at work in resting. Somethimes my resting is not so restful, it feels like restlessness and like I am trying to take just one deep breath. It hurts. And I am rminded that God is in my waiting.

God help me in the waiting. Help me to rest in you. Help me to see you, the only God who became visible in and through Jesus Christ.
Friend, I don’t know where your at today, but I felt a strong push to write this short blog post to remind us that God is in our waiting. Let us trust that he is working for those who wait for him.

Praying for all of you who feel discouraged in the waiting.

Be at peace my soul, God is in the waiting.

Held by God in the waiting,

Carmen

Your Special Work, Are You Doing It?

There are a lot of things to value about a faith-based graduate study journey, and there is one that I am particularly thankful for this week: time allotted to simply hearing and reflecting on the Word of God. That’s where the inspiration for today’s post comes from. Read More

Warning Signs of a Toxic or Dysfunctional Board

I’m currently not serving on a board, but hope to again at some point in the future. Since the first time I served on a board, I have done a lot of reading, studying (which included taking a Board Governance class), talking with others who are either serve or served on a board,  and I’ve learned a thing or two since those early first days of board service.

Here are some warning signs of a toxic and or dysfunctional board. They are in no particular order of importance, yet they all matter.

  1. How is the board’s relationships with its key leader(s)? Toxic alert warnings should be abounding if boards are not getting along with their key leader(s) and are talking about them in negative ways instead of talking to them to find solutions and ways to come together. If a board and their CEO (or whatever title is used for the key leader) are not actively working alongside each other and respecting each others roles, it will be felt in the entire organization. It takes high levels of humility from both sides to work together, and it can be done.
  2. How effective is the Board Chair? The role of a chair directly ties into how effective the board can and will be.  “As the president or executive director is the public face of the organization, the chair is the public face of the board. When he or she speaks or acts with the conferred power of the board, the credibility of the organization is on the line.” (David L. McKenna, Call of the Chair, 11. Unhealthy chair equals a toxic board. It is vitally important that a chair is carefully selected for the leadership abilities and character that they bring to the role. Take care in selecting the right chair. (I think that last line rhymed.)
  3. When the board speaks, is it speaking as one voice?  “Good boards contain and accommodate a diversity of perspectives and thoughts. They give time and respect to individual differences, and they are rewarded with a message that the board as a whole can support. Although there may be discussion, even vociferous debate, of competing viewpoints in a board meeting, when the board finally speaks to an issue in the form of policy, it should speak with one voice.” (Frederic L. Laughlin and Robert C. Andringa, Good Governance for NonProfits, 26.) When board members are not speaking with one voice they are in a dysfunctional pattern and should be considered toxic.
  4. Are there sound board processes that empower the board to thrive? If processes are not clearly understood by all and are not able to be easily found, referenced, and followed, it throws a board into chaos and things can quickly degenerate. John Carver rightly advises “that taking time to design a sound board process, before the process becomes personalized is the greatest safeguard against the debilitating effects of unfortunate interpersonal dynamics. The only other preventative measure that comes close is to ensure that all board members are intelligent, communicative, assertive, and mentally healthy” (John Carver, Boards that Make a Difference, 136.)
  5. Is there good communication and transparency from the board?  Boards have a hard job to do together, and for many of us, serving on a board is something we do in addition to our day job. However, we can never lose sight of the fact that we were elected to give leadership and thus have a responsibility to be effectively and regularly communicating with those who have entrusted leadership to us. Also, something else to be aware of,  if boards are spending more time in-camera than out – there is a problem. That said, in-camera sessions do matter; here is a great blog post to read that speaks to why they’re important.
  6. Lack of trust, confidentiality, respect, power struggles and nonparticipation of board members are all warning signs that a board is toxic. I couldn’t figure out how to make this a question (it’s late) so I made it as strong a statement as I could. If any of the above is happening it needs to be dealt with – this is why choosing a qualified chair matters! The role of the chair is to manage the board members, call us all to a higher standard, and to deal with issues head on so as to keep the entire board healthy. I think health can also be achieved by setting criteria for board members and allowing a board to recruit qualified people (accountability/policy must be in place for this) to ensure there are diverse gifts present. Health can also be attained by having ongoing board development so as to grow the capacity and health of the board. It is also imperative that a board use their allocated resources to hire consultants or other experts, as needed.

Though this list is not exhaustive, I hope it gives you enough food for thought and possibly even makes for some good discussion points among those of you considering being on a board.

Board work matters – and we need healthy boards.

Have a great weekend.

Carmen

The Power of Saying I’m Sorry

For some of us, saying we’re sorry is extremely difficult; while for others of us, it rolls off our tongue as a quick fix and we give little thought to what we’re actually saying or why we’re saying it.

But the power of a genuine I’m sorry can be immeasurable in it’s ability to yield positive fruit.

In the last number of years, learning to say those words – and mean it – has been well modelled for me from men and women alike. Here’s what I’ve witnessed and/or experienced as a result:

  • Trust and respect grows
  • Teams are strengthened
  • Family relationships grow deeper
  • Grace abounds
  • Resilience is built
  • Healing happens
  • Relationships are transformed

Leaders, we need to be people who are unafraid to step into a conversation where we accept and own when we’ve blown it. Leaders model the way.

As I am reading through the New Testament for a class, I am reminded that Jesus was a man of grace and truth. He was also a man who led differently, let that also be true of us. Let us be men and woman who, when needed, say I’m sorry and genuinely mean it.

Is I’m sorry part of your vocabulary?

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