Cut Your Losses

Is it a $30,000 baseball or not?

 

by Dan Busby and John Pearson

 

The more you prepare for the meeting before the meeting,
the less time you will have to spend doing damage control
after the meeting. A leader never has to recover from a good start.[1]

John Maxwell

In my spare time, I am a baseball researcher and collector of memorabilia. Normal folks might enjoy a few hours walking through the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum and Library in Cooperstown, NY. Abnormal people—like me—enjoy spending several days at a stretch conducting research in the library.[2]

There are a number of sports collectors’ conventions regularly held around the country. I drop by one or two of these each year just to keep up with what is happening in the world of vintage baseball collectibles.

In King of Prussia, PA, I was walking around the floor of a collector’s convention with a friend who is also a CPA, though neither of us are now actively practicing accounting. We paused to look at some items at one booth.

The dealer recognized us and knew we were CPAs. He said, “I apologize for asking you a professional question, but I need help with a tax issue.”

The dealer said he had bought a baseball earlier in the year and was convinced that it had been autographed by the great New York Yankee home run slugger Babe Ruth. He paid $30,000 for the baseball. While this is a lot of money, a pristine ball cleanly autographed by the Babe on the “sweet spot” carries a very high value.

He said that he had the ball examined by several groups that authenticate sports memorabilia. In each case, the verdict came back—the signature was a fake. The baseball had absolutely no value.

My CPA friend and I explained how the owner of a baseball with a fake signature could document and claim his loss for tax purposes. We were careful to share with him that our advice might be worth what it cost him, and we walked on.

Reflecting on the discussion with the dealer about his worthless baseball, I was reminded that occasionally things are not as they appear in the boardroom. For example, join me at this ministry’s quarterly board meeting.

As board members filed in, everyone smiled and exchanged pleasant greetings. However, when the meeting was called to order, there was no opportunity for board members to transition from their busy lives into their sacred calling as board members. The board chair plunged right into the meeting agenda. There was a brief prayer, then the roll was called and minutes from the previous meeting were reviewed. Up to this point, everything was very cordial.

The next agenda item was one of those heavy-lifting issues. After the board chair introduced the matter, one board member staked out a passionate position against the proposal. Then, another member took a very strong position in favor of the proposal. The stage was set for discord.

Some of the ensuing discussion was not very God-honoring, to say the least. Some speeches became too personal. When a vote was taken, the proposal was adopted, with eight in favor and seven against. Even the eight board members voting on the prevailing side left the boardroom with an empty feeling. The seven members who did not prevail were less than satisfied with the result and the tenor of the meeting.

What appeared to be a peaceful start to the board meeting dissolved into an unhealthy exchange between board members with hurt feelings and lasting consequences. The board meeting started routinely, but things were not as they appeared on the surface.

We have been in board meetings when the discussion has become too loud, too shrill, too personal, and more. And, we have seen board chairs respond two ways: 1) simply let the meeting deteriorate, or 2) step up and provide leadership.

Sometimes the board chair must hit the pause button on the meeting and pray. It may require deferring action on a thorny proposal to the next board meeting—even when Roberts Rules of Order doesn’t provide a clean path to do so.

The sports memorabilia dealer hoped he had a $30,000 baseball but it was really worthless, and he had to cut his losses. There are times in the boardroom when we must cut our losses. In those times, it’s not about saving face; it is about conducting God-honoring board work that is fitting and orderly (1 Cor. 14:40). It’s never wrong to do the right thing.

Investing time in the following three ways are prerequisites for effective board meetings:

  • Invest time for board members to get reacquainted before the meeting starts. It takes a little time to transition from our personal lives into a board meeting. Start the meeting with a breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Give board members time to share what is happening in their lives.
  • Invest adequate time for prayer before the meeting starts. The pre-meeting sharing may identify prayer needs. Instead of a perfunctory 60-second prayer by one person, allow all board members the opportunity to lead in prayer, or pray in groups of two or three. If there isn’t time to pray, there isn’t time for a board meeting.
  • Invest time when tough issues may require multi-meeting exposure. The larger and more complex the issue, the greater likelihood that discussion of the topic should occur across more than one board meeting. This approach gives the board time to discern together whether or not a proposal is in step with what God wants for the ministry now.

 

BOARDROOM LESSON
_______________________________

When things are not as they appear to be in the boardroom,
it is time for the board chair to restore calm.
Invest time in prayer and enriching relationships
so God is honored. This will require strong and
sensitive leadership by the board chair

  Board Action Steps:

  1. Report: Ask a board member to read and report on Chapter 18, “The Secret to a Good Meeting Is the Meeting Before the Meeting,” in Leadership Gold: Lessons I’ve Learned from a Lifetime of Leading by John C. Maxwell.[3]
  2. Read: Encourage your board chair, with assistance from your CEO, to frequently take the pulse of the meeting and the relationships around the board table.
  3. Restore: When your board meeting abruptly turns from peaceful to rocky, be sure your board chair invests time in restoring calm with all appropriate measures.

 

Prayer

Lord, thank You for our board chair. Help our chair foster healthy
and God-honoring relationships among our board members
so that we encourage our CEO and propel our mission forward. Amen.

 

 

[1] John C. Maxwell, Leadership Gold: Lessons I’ve Learned from a Lifetime of Leading (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008), 171.

[2] Dan Busby, Before and After Babe Ruth: A Story of the New York Yankees Told Through the Lens of Tickets and Passes (Winchester, VA: Foundation for Baseball Ticket Research, LLC, 2018).

[3] Maxwell, Leadership Gold, 164.
 

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.

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