Called to Serve: No Reading Allowed!


By John Pearson

Note: This is No. 8 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. (Click on the title to order the book for every board member.)

Max De Pree: “The chairperson should not permit anyone to read to the board.”

Preach it! We’ve all been in boardrooms and endured this agonizing and unnecessary process:
• Via email, senior staff send very detailed, single-spaced, typed reports (often rambling, and often duplicating the previous quarter’s report)—and board members dutifully read these reports prior to the meeting.
• Then senior staff read the reports at board meetings.

Stop the madness! Bring a large poster to your next board meeting: 
“The chairperson should not permit anyone to read to the board.”

De Pree notes, “This is both a waste of time and a mark of poor preparation and therefore of inadequate respect. A board meeting is an important time together and should be used judiciously by all participants.”

One of my favorite books, 15 Minutes Including Q&A: A Plan to Save the World From Lousy Presentations, by Joey Asher, says you can give a presentation in just seven minutes and leave eight minutes for Q&A.

Begin with “the hook.” Asher writes. “Start by putting your finger on the business issue that your [board] cares most about. A good way to arrive at your hook is to think, ‘If I were to ask my [board] what worried them most about the topic I’m going to talk about, what would they say?’”

“The hook often starts with the following phrase, ‘I understand that you are concerned about…’”

Proverbs 18:2 (MSG) is a good reminder to both talkers and readers: “Fools care nothing for thoughtful discourse; all they do is run off at the mouth.”

CEOs and Senior Staff: the purpose of your report is to enable board members to monitor, measure, and assess alignment with the mission they hold as stewards, before God. Help them do that!

Board Chairs: “The chairperson should not permit anyone to read to the board.”

BOARDROOM EXERCISE: Peter Drucker said, “At least once every five years, every form should be put on trial for its life.” (Ditto routine board reports—and maybe once a year!)


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.