“Good Is the Enemy of Great”

When great board experiences end, they should be lamented.

 

by Dan Busby and John Pearson

 

Greatness is an inherently dynamic process, not an end point.
The moment you think of yourself as great,
your slide toward mediocrity will have already begun.[1]

Jim Collins

 

Many board experiences are good for the board member and the board. However, few are great experiences, in a large part because it is so easy to settle for good experiences. As Jim Collins says, “Good is the enemy of great.”[2] The difference between good and great board experiences is larger than one would imagine.

The goal for every ministry should be to create great board experiences for every board member. While good board experiences are par for the course, boards have a higher calling. And when term limits mandate that you bid farewell

to a great board member, take time to honor how that person has enriched your lives and the effectiveness of your ministry. And it is appropriate for a board member to lament leaving a great board.

Tomas completed six years of service on a ministry board. He left the board only because he reached the term limit imposed by the bylaws. Tomas believed he had a great board experience. Dean, the ministry’s CEO, agreed.

Because great board experiences are not commonplace, I spoke to both Tomas and Dean to gain insights into what made this a great experience all the way around. Here is what Dean observed about Tomas:

  • Unfazed by challenges. The ministry faced some unusually strong challenges during Tomas’ board tenure. Dean said that Tomas was not fazed by the challenges. Tomas could be counted on to thoughtfully consider even the most difficult issues and support sound recommendations.
  • Unwavering support. While the board was generally supportive of its CEO, Dean had a special sense that he could always count on Tomas for support when the going got tough.
  • Shared influence. Tomas was generous in sharing his important connections with Dean and the ministry. Every board member has connections that are helpful to the ministry they serve; it is the sharing of those connections that is the key.
  • Creative thought. When outside-the-box thinking was helpful, Tomas came through every time. He was all about clock-building, not time-telling, to use an expression popularized by Jim Collins in Good to Great.
  • Generosity of time. Tomas not only made board meeting attendance a priority, he was generous in his time in serving on board committees.

And here is how Tomas characterized his time on the board:

  • Connection with an organization of significance. Tomas found it rewarding to allocate his time, energy, and bandwidth to this ministry that shone Kingdom light in a corner of the world that needs that light. We live in a broken world, and the role of a ministry board is to bring wholeness to that brokenness. Tomas believed this ministry made a Kingdom difference.
  • Wrestling with real issues that require wisdom. Tomas knew that to do a good job you need to have a good job. That is true in actual job positions (for-profit and nonprofit) as well as in board positions (for-profit and nonprofit). Tomas recognized the huge difference between problems that require solutions and reports that invite feedback. It is a waste of resources to gather a high-horsepower board to simply listen to reports.
  • Membership in a well-constructed board community. Tomas appreciated the board chemistry. Achieving the right chemistry—the right tone and tenor of a group that works well together is harder than it looks. It is possible to have very good people on the board, but who don’t mesh well together and that impacts good governance. It is also possible to have very good chemistry, but without effective governance. Tomas noted that the best boards have both.
  • Robust interaction in a space of guaranteed confidentiality. Tomas said this was a great board experience because it had both “robust interaction” and “guaranteed confidentiality.” Robust interaction assumes that the board is not simply a rubber stamp of manage­ment decisions, and/or that the board’s wisdom is needed and valuable. If confidentiality is not guaranteed—or is assured but ends up being breached—then the necessary interaction is muted.

Thomas Addington, CEO of Givington’s and Omega Apparel, offers a concise summation of what makes a board great:

“The greatness of any board experience turns on two key hinges: the quality of the organization itself—including the significance of its mission; and the specific composition of board personalities—including its mix of competence and chemistry.”[3]

 

BOARDROOM LESSON
_______________________________

The goal for every ministry should be to create
great board experiences for every board member.
While good board experiences are par for the course,
boards have a higher calling.

  Board Action Steps:

  1. Assess: Take inventory of the quality of the board experience offered by your ministry.
  2. Improve: Determine how the quality of the board experience can be significantly improved. Ask board members for input, and always conduct an exit interview when board members term off the board.
  3. Implement: Design the necessary steps to achieve the identified improvements.

 

Prayer

Lord, help us to create a board atmosphere
conducive to great board experiences. Amen.

 

 

[1] Jim Collins, Good to Great and the Social Sectors: Why Business Thinking Is Not the Answer (Boulder, CO: Jim Collins, 2005), 9.

[2] Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 1.

[3] Thomas Addington, “Good Is the Enemy of Great,” Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom (blog), July 4, 2018, http://nonprofitboardroom.blogspot.com/2018/07/lesson-33-good-is-enemy-of-great.html.
 

From Lessons From the Nonprofit 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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