Best Board Books #1: Boards That Lead

By John Pearson

Board members and CEOs often ask me to recommend the best book on board governance.> Of course—one size doesn’t fit all. There is no one “perfect” book for every board. It depends on many factors, as Dan Busby and I point out in “Lesson 38: Great Boards Delegate Their Reading” in Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom.

How would you rate your current board members’ competencies and experiences?
• Do most have previous board experiences that were healthy (not dysfunctional)?
• Does your board agree where they are on the continuum from Policy Governance® to hands-on boards?
• Is there alignment with the 10 or more traditional roles and responsibilities of the board?

Your answers would help me suggest the “best” book for you—whether for everyone to read before your next board retreat, or for a quick “10 Minutes for Governance” book review by one board member at your next board meeting.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll suggest some of the most insightful books on board governance—some “secular” and some Christ-centered. Pick one that fits your board’s culture and needs.

BOOK #1: Boards That Lead: When to Take Charge, When to Partner, and When to Stay Out of the Way, by Ram Charan, Dennis Carey and Michael Useem

You can read my book review by clicking here. Here’s a taste: Learning boards will discover vast insights and practical next steps in Boards That Lead:

Boards should ask new CEOs to draft a succession plan immediately (and the annual self-assessment should measure progress).
• Caution! Leaders can change dramatically when they get the brass ring.
• Nothing can make up for the wrong choice of CEO.
• Ten principles for finding the right CEO (Warning: “Review outside consultants carefully to prevent conflicts of interest.”)
• In risk management, why quantification alone is a false crutch.
• The value of a one-pager with agenda/decision highlights sent before every meeting
The learned art of what to feed to the board
• How to coach new board members to stay at the right “altitude” in board meetings
• How to get maximum value from an advisory council or board (They quote Roger Kenny who says advisory boards are “like the Marines: They get you on the beach.”)

And then this PowerPoint-worthy wisdom:

“Execution is where management starts and the board stops.”

BOARD DISCUSSION: Is our CEO “feeding us” the appropriate and right amount of information, inspiration, and context for our “heavy lifting” topics prior to each board meeting. What do you appreciate? What would improve this process?

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.