Bacon, Eggs, and Board Chairs

By John Pearson

love this big idea from James Belasco:

“You can never do enough looking over the wall to learn how to do things. Seeing excellence in action helps individuals visual how they can do it for themselves.”

“Looking over the wall” is a lost discipline for many boards. If your organization is more than 10 years old, I’m guessing:
• Board members sit in the same chairs at every meeting.
• The same old/same old agenda reigns supreme.
• The same people talk often—rarely waiting for more thoughtful voices to speak at least once.
• You tend to ask God to bless your plans versus inviting God to give you the plan.

So how do you disrupt the status quo?

Some ideas:
• Invite a CEO or board member from another ministry to observe your board meeting—and offer unvarnished feedback.
• Visit another board meeting—and then debrief with the CEO and board chair on their best practices.
• Zero-base your agenda. Is our stuck-in-the-rut routine helping us adjourn on time, or achieve our mission?
• Practice spontaneous prayer—based on the needs of the hour, not the agenda.

Last week, a board coach/colleague mentioned he once organized a 24-hour retreat with three other board chairs. The topic: “What was your best board decision/policy action in the last 12 months—and why?”

His big takeaway: “I returned to our board with a recommendation that we budget for an eight percent margin each year.” The board approved and he said that one new idea has been transformational for the ministry.

Here’s the good news: while 24 hours with three board chairs would be a remarkable experience—to be sure—you can begin with bacon and eggs. Invite three other board chairs to join you for breakfast in the next 60 days—and glean from the combined wisdom around the table, as you “look over the wall” for excellence in action.

Proverbs 15:22 (NIV) says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers, they succeed.”

QUESTION: When is the last time you’ve looked over the wall to improve your governance best practices?


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.