Board Chair Best Practices #4: The Meeting Before the Meeting

By John Pearson

#4. The Meeting Before the Meeting

You’ve heard this one: “As the board goes, so goes the organization. And as the board chair goes, so goes the board.”

The board chair’s role in thoughtfully and prayerfully leading the board—especially during board meetings—is critical to a healthy board. And a common best practice is for the board chair and the CEO to have a meeting before the meeting.

John Maxwell’s helpful book, Leadership Gold: Lessons I’ve Learned from a Lifetime of Leading, includes an insightful chapter, “The Secret to a Good Meeting Is the Meeting Before the Meeting.” Maxwell credits his meeting management wisdom to Olan Hendrix, one of his mentors (and the first president of ECFA).

In 10 quick-reading pages, Maxwell builds the case for turning routine meetings into productive action-oriented gatherings. It’s excellent advice for board chairs and CEOs to meet (at least by phone) prior to every board and committee meeting. Following the counsel of Hendrix, Maxwell writes that the meeting before the meeting:
1) helps you receive buy-in
2) helps followers to gain perspective
3) increases your influence
4) helps you develop trust
5) avoids your being blindsided.

The “no surprises” rule is critical for the key people in each meeting—and typically, that means you must meet with them in advance.

Maxwell preaches: “If you can’t have the meeting before the meeting, don’t have the meeting. If you do have the meeting before the meeting, but it doesn’t go well, don’t have the meeting. If you have the meeting before the meeting and it goes as well as you hoped, then have the meeting!”

You’re probably not going to cancel a pre-scheduled quarterly board meeting—so that puts even more importance on ensuring that “the meeting before the meeting” is effectively conducted.

Proverbs is filled with leadership wisdom on seeking counsel; and challenges to inspire--not manipulate--people (and board members). Proverbs 24:5-6 (The Message):

“It’s better to be wise than strong;

intelligence outranks muscle any day.

Strategic planning is the key to warfare;

to win, you need a lot of good counsel.”

QUESTION: Think back to a meeting that went south. Would a meeting before the meeting have helped?


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.