Called to Serve: Board Meddling on Management’s Turf

By John Pearson

Note: This is No. 23 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.

"Max De Pree: “Another tension arises when board members try to move onto management’s turf. Sometimes good members do this without intending to.”

It is the rare board that effectively governs at high levels without dipping into operational arenas. De Pree addresses this boardroom tension in just half a page—but the frequent problem deserves a full chapter (or maybe a book!).

There are many reasons why board members cross the line into management:

1. They don’t trust the CEO and the senior team. Some board members assume they are smarter and more competent than the staff—and so their “wisdom” in operational matters is needed.

Solution: If your CEO is not competent, the board must address that issue, not work around the CEO’s lack of leadership.

2. They inappropriately wear their volunteer hats in board meetings. Board members, who are also volunteers in the organization, frequently raise volunteer issues during board meetings and then drag the board into the operational weeds.

Solution: Once a year, screen the short video from the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 2: Understanding the 3 Board Hats: Governance, Volunteer, Participant.

3. They have not personally experienced the impact of effective God-honoring governance. In the absence of healthy board experiences on other boards—or governance training, helpful resources, and board retreats with an enrichment component—board members tend to repeat mediocre boardroom practices: the same old/same old drill. They focus on operations because the big picture (vision, mission, strategy, spiritual discernment, outcomes, etc.) are absent.

Solution: Inspire your governance committee to keep enrichment and lifelong learning on the front burner with books, blogs, resources, consultants, and an on-going call for board members to be stewards of their sacred trust.

De Pree notes that “it’s up to the chairperson” to ensure that boards don’t meddle on management’s turf. If your board chair needs a refresher course in the calling and art of chairing, encourage him or her to read the new ECFAPress book, Call of the Chair: Leading the Board of the Christ-centered Ministry, by David L. McKenna.

BOARD DISCUSSION: Think back to your last board meeting. Did your board chair halt discussion that spiraled down into management and operational items?


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.