Baiting the Board Hook for Maximum Engagement

By John Pearson

About now, 12 days before Christmas, a few CEOs (and more likely, their executive assistants) are scrambling to find meaningful gifts for their board members.

Here’s a gift idea that will keep on giving and giving and giving. What if…your CEO pledged to wear board member shoes all year?

I recently came across the following insightful metaphor from Bill Hoyt in his book, Effectiveness by the Numbers: Counting What Counts in the Church:

“It is not according to the taste of the angler, but according to the taste of the fish that one baits the hook.”

When your CEO and senior team members (and CFOs especially) step into the virtual shoes of board members, I’m guessing several things will happen:

#1. BOARD PREFERENCES. CEOs will support the board according to the board’s taste (preferences, learning styles, meeting times, etc.) and not the CEO’s taste.

Example: Your CEO’s learning style might be listening, but the learning style of her board members might be reading. (Click hereto listen to The Flourishing Culture Podcast on learning styles, and much more.)

#2. BOARD REPORTS. Board reports will be delivered on time (or even early!) so board members have adequate time to pray, discern, and reflect on board meeting agendas, reports, and recommendations.

Insight: “What kind of CEO waits until the night before the board meeting to dump on the directors a phone-book-size report…Surely not a CEO who trusts his or her board.” (Read the HBR article, “What Makes Great Boards Great.”)

#3. BOARD TIME. When CEOs wear board member shoes, there will be greater sensitivity to the limited time board members actually have for board work.

Idea. Urge your CEO to serve on another nonprofit board—to experience the boardroom from the other end of the table. It will be a wake-up call!

#4. BOARD STRENGTHS. There’s a humorous story in Lesson 25 of Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, “Align Board Member Strengths With Committee Assignments.” The big idea: CEOs and board chairs must leverage the “3 Powerful S’s” of every board member: Strengths, Spiritual Gifts, and Social Styles. That would be a huge gift to every person.

Example: When you assign me to committees that don’t leverage my strengths, I’m likely to skip the meeting. But when you invite me to serve in an area that aligns and exercises my 3 Powerful S’swhew!—that’s an instant holy calling!

If you still need a gift—in addition to a Christmas card with the above pledge—then (you guessed it) give every board member a copy of Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom. Merry Christmas!

BOARDROOM ASSIGNMENT: Take five minutes at your next board meeting and ask every board member to share how God has wired them: spiritual gifts, social style (analytical, driving, amiable, or expressive), strengths, learning style, etc.

MORE RESOURCES: Follow the “40 Blogs. 40 Wednesdays.” color commentaries on Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom. Click 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.