Break Bread, Not Relationships

Building a 24/7 healthy board culture takes time. Don’t skimp on meals or relationships.

 

by Dan Busby and John Pearson

 

Dear God, help me to speak cautiously.
Let me use the least words, the least intensity,
the least volume to be understood.
Help me voice my opinions with care, strength, and meekness.
Help me to say nothing degrading
and nothing that would draw lines of conflict unnecessarily.[1]

Dan Bolin

 

The CEO was stunned. Ditto for every board member. The CEO and the board chair were so shocked that they failed to respond quickly and salvage the moment and the offender’s reputation.

This is a true story. About mid-meeting, the CEO introduced the board to the new, well-vetted, executive vice president. Brock was a sterling pick. His resume checked all the boxes: commitment to Christ, charismatic communicator, plus excellent character, competence, and chemistry. Patrick Lencioni would say he nailed the big three virtues of an ideal team player: hungry, humble, and [people] smart.[2]

Underneath the candidate’s easy-going style was a fierce competitive spirit. Brock played college football for a nationally ranked team. So when a board member asked a fairly innocent question about his best accomplishment in life, Brock flashed a broad smile and fist-pumped his response: “Beating our crosstown rival three years in a row!” (He named the rival, of course.)

Oops! Board member Eric, a fully devoted alumnus of that crosstown rival came unglued. Absolutely unglued. Almost apoplectic, Eric stood, slammed his board binder on the table, and stormed out of the room. (Did we mention—stunned silence? Shocked colleagues?)

The CEO told me, sheepishly, that no one confronted this powerful board member the next day, or at the next meeting. Sad.

Stuff happens, of course, in life—and in boardrooms. Maybe Eric arrived late to the board meeting after a really bad day. You want to give the guy grace, but you must also address inappropriate behavior.

We were not in that boardroom, gratefully, but we’ve observed sterling God-honoring best practices in hundreds of boardrooms over the years. We’ve seen CEOs and board chairs inspire their board members to walk the talk before, during, and after every board meeting.

We’ve noticed this: healthy boardroom cultures—24/7 healthy—are blessed with leaders who are very proactive in enriching the boardroom experience. We can think of a dozen characteristics of healthy boards (and we’re sure you can too). Here are three:

3 Characteristics of Healthy Boards

  1. EATING with intentionality. Breaking bread together as a board takes time, yes, but meals also slow the pace of board meetings (a good thing) and provide time for relationship-building. If Eric had enjoyed a pre-board meeting meal with Brock, perhaps Brock would have softened his fist-pump and Eric would have relished some needed downtime levity between his really bad day and the jammed board agenda. Food fuels fellowship and fellowship fuels deeper relationships.
  2. ENJOYING deeper relationships. “A friend is one who walks in when others walk out.”[3]  That poignant line is quoted in Jerry and Mary White’s book, To Be a Friend. Pray and work for that level of relationship authenticity on your board.

    While we don’t recommend stocking a board with close friends of the CEO—here’s the dilemma: healthy boards ultimately enrich relationships and thus board members do become close friends many times. That should be expected and enjoyed.
  3. ELIMINATING all distractions. We know a board chair who begins every board meeting with a warm, but unmistakable command. “Thank you for putting your phones on airplane mode and placing them on the table—upside down, so you won’t be tempted to glance a look under the table. We already know that trick!” This might seem picky—but keep reading.

Dr. John J. Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and author of the New York Times bestseller Brain Rules, notes: “Multitasking, when it comes to paying attention, is a myth. The brain naturally focuses on concepts sequentially, one at a time. At first that might sound confusing; at one level the brain does multitask. You can walk and talk at the same time. Your brain controls your heartbeat while you read a book. Pianists can play a piece with left hand and right hand simultaneously. Surely this is multitasking. But I am talking about the brain’s ability to pay attention. It is the resource you forcibly deploy while trying to listen to a boring lecture at school. It is the activity that collapses as your brain wanders during a tedious presentation at work. This attentional ability is, to put it bluntly, not capable of multitasking.”[4]

So healthy boards commit to device-free zones—so everyone’s focus is on God’s work, not texts or emails. (If board members utilize an online board portal, that’s fine—but then require that emails are turned off.)

That’s our three-point sermon for healthy boards: Eat with intentionality. Enjoy deeper relationships. Eliminate all distractions.

 

BOARDROOM LESSON
_______________________________

Budget time for relationship-building.
Build unhurried meals into your board agenda
and break bread together—
and enrich board relationships.

  Board Action Steps:

  1. Be Intentional: Healthy boards don’t get that way by accident. Identify at least one intentional step you’re taking in the next 90 days to become healthier.
  2. Intercept Entropy: Max De Pree warned leaders “to recognize the signals of impending deterioration.”[5] Read more in his classic book, Leadership Is an Art.

 

Prayer

Lord, we do want a healthy board culture—
so You will be glorified. Help us. Amen.

 

 

[1] “A Board Prayer,” by Dan Bolin, is reprinted by permission.

[2] Patrick Lencioni, The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate the Three Essential Virtues (Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass, 2016), 157–61.

[3] Jerry and Mary White, To Be a Friend: Building Deep and Lasting Relationships (Carol Stream, IL: NavPress, 2014), 71.

[4] John J. Medina, Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, 2d ed., (Seattle, WA: Pear Press, 2014), 115.

[5]Max De Pree, Leadership Is an Art (New York: Random House, 2004), 111.

 

From Lessons From the Nonprfit Boardroom: 40 Insights for Better Board Meetings, 2018, www.ECFA.org/KnowledgeCenter.


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.

Navigation


Follow @ecfa