Don’t Be Late—or Annoying!

What’s worse than fingernails on a chalkboard? A boisterous board member at a prayer meeting.

 

by Dan Busby and John Pearson

 

Leave space for anyone who may want to speak a first time
before speaking a second time yourself. [1]

Ruth Haley Barton
 

 

There was good news and there was bad news. And, of course, it included a troublemaker.

That's how we described an afternoon board meeting we facilitated. Let's start with the bad news.

Prior to a special meeting focused on the strategic plan, the board gathered first for prayer and discernment. In teams of three around the boardroom, each group quietly discussed several core questions, then prayed together.

There was a substantive spirit of unity—almost an aroma of joyous expectation. That is, until the one latecomer interrupted the holy quietness with a slammed door and his equally annoying (and unnecessary) greetings.

“Hey, everyone! Sorry I’m late! What's going on? You all in groups? Where’s my group? Whatcha working on?”

Not quite fingernails on the chalkboard, but close. Proverbs 29:11 (MSG) pegs this person: “A fool lets it all hang out; a sage quietly mulls it over.”

The “sweet, sweet spirit in this place” had left the room to be replaced by a boisterous, inconsiderate board member. He joined a group of his own choosing but continued to voice his questions and comments at decibel levels more in tune with a Major League Baseball game.

What's the good news? In spite of Mr. Uncouth, progress was made. Using green (yes) and red (no) straw vote cards,[2] the board weighed in on several dozen initiatives, then prioritized the few that were especially aligned with the organization's mission, vision, and core values.

The board chair was able to tone down Mr. Uncouth by intentionally engaging all the board members, especially those who tended to remain quiet, but when given the opportunity, had great insights to share. The result was a fully engaged and unified board.

Bad news: Some board members are clueless, late to meetings, unprepared, and hog the conversation.

Good news: Grace abounds. We can discern how to leverage their gifts anyway, and in the future, we can also conduct more due diligence through reference checks during the board recruitment process. (“How is Sam in a group setting? Is he a good listener? On time? Respectful of others?”)

Bad news: When board meetings involve only talking heads, endless reports, and no time for deep engagement, you’ll create an expectation of low expectations. 

Good news: When you intentionally create time and space in board meetings for all board members to engage, you’ll often be blessed with extraordinary insights, wisdom, and spiritual discernment.

 

BOARDROOM LESSON
_______________________________

Create a board culture that gives your board chair permission
to affirm and reprimand both ends of the continuum:
expressive and sometimes boisterous board members
but also way-too-quiet board members who have wisdom to share.
Strike a balance and bless the board so deep engagement becomes the norm.
 

  Board Action Steps:

  1. Affirm: Try this at your next board meeting (by prior delegation): Before the gavel signals adjournment time, ask your best listener on the board to go around the room with a brief kudo for each board member's input during the meeting.

  • “Jack, wow! Thanks for your suggestion on the ABC Project. That was so innovative.”

  • “Jill, when we were fumbling all over our revised amendments and missing the import of that outreach opportunity, you called us to prayer. Those five minutes of spiritual refreshment may have been the most important five minutes of our meeting.”

  • “Alberto, I've noticed that you are always early to our meetings and always helping Guy with the materials, coffee, snacks, and good humor. Your hospitality gifts are a blessing to all of us.”

  1. Reinforce: You get the idea. Reinforce the good news and, Lord willing, you'll have less bad news
     

 

Prayer

Lord, if I’m the boisterous (and maybe annoying) board member at our table,
help me to tone it down. And if I’m too quiet or too timid too often,
help me recognize Your Holy Spirit nudges to speak up. Amen.
 

 

 

[1] Ruth Haley Barton, Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 207.

[2] Dan Busby and John Pearson, ECFA Tools and Templates for Effective Board Governance (Winchester, VA: ECFAPress, 2019), 243-46.
 

From More Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom: Effectiveness, Excellence, Elephants!, 2019, 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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