Great Boards Delegate Their Reading

Identify a “Leaders Are Readers Champion.”


by Dan Busby and John Pearson


If you were marooned on a desert island and
could have only a single book with you, what would you choose?
Somebody once asked this question of G. K. Chesterton.
Given his reputation as one of the most erudite and creative
Christian writers in the first half of the twentieth Christian century,
one would naturally expect his response to be the Bible. It was not.
Chesterton chose Thomas’ Guide to Practical Shipbuilding.[1]

John Ortberg


I was shocked—but pleasantly shocked.

At a coffee break in a two-day board enrichment workshop, a lifelong learning CEO asked me to recommend “the best governance book” his board should read. So we strolled over to the resource table, and I began my lecture.

Me: Actually, there is no one perfect book for every board. It depends on many factors: previous board experience (the good kind!), your board’s operating philosophy (the continuum from Policy Governance® to hands-on boards), your board’s competencies in 10 or more traditional roles and responsibilities . . .

He interrupted. Apparently, I was preaching, not helping.

CEO: Yeah. I get all that. But what do you recommend?

Me: Okay. But are you looking for a faith-based governance book or wanting to address any specific issue or opportunity? For example, here's a really good one: Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask by Ram Charan. I especially appreciate how boards must wrestle with the question “Does the board own the strategy?”    

CEO: We’ve already read that. Great book!

Me: Way to go! Then how about this one: The Imperfect Board Member: Discovering the Seven Disciplines of Governance Excellence by Jim Brown. It’s not faith-based, but the author is a Christian—and get this—the board expert in this Patrick Lencioni-type business fable is a pastor!    

CEO: We read it!

Me: What is this, a quiz show? Wow! Your board is well read. How about this one: Best Practices for Effective Boards by Fairbanks, Gunter, and Couchenour?

Finally I pitched a book that his board had not read. I also mentioned several more, including the Harvard Business Review article “What Makes Great Boards Great,” by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld.[2] The author explains it’s not rules and regulations—it’s the way people work together—that creates a great board.

We’ve observed that there are several best practices that learning boards embrace:

  • Learning boards feature brief book reviews at every board meeting. Great boards delegate their reading. Every board member doesn’t need to read every governance book. However, with advance planning and motivation, the board chair can inspire individual board members to read and report on a helpful governance book. Some boards set a timer on the book reviewer for four or five minutes. If the reviewer concludes the report before the bell rings, he or she earns a Starbucks card!
  • Learning boards inspire everyone to read the same book prior to the annual board retreat. Select one stimulating book for everyone to read and include a “Read and Reflect Worksheet.” Provide three options: Good—read five chapters; Better—read eight chapters; Best—read every chapter. Invite selected board members to share four-minute reviews of their assigned chapters. You’ll be amazed at the preparation! No one wants to be remembered as the unprepared presenter.
  • Learning boards deputize a “Leaders Are Readers Champion.” Appoint one board member to keep the “leaders are readers” core value on the front burner. Provide a small budget so he or she can keep abreast of the latest trends, resources, training, books, blogs, videos, toolboxes, and websites that will help your board be lifelong learners.

So what is “the best governance book” your board should read next? It depends, of course, on your unique situation. As you spiritually discern God’s direction for your ministry, your journey can be enhanced by the books you read (or listen to). Inspire your board to read!



Appoint an avid reader on your board as your
“Leaders Are Readers Champion.” Provide a small budget
and inspire your champion to keep lifelong governance
learning top of mind for all board members.

  Board Action Steps:

  1. Appoint: Inspire a board member (perhaps a member of your governance committee) to be your “Leaders Are Readers Champion” with a brief focus on governance at each board meeting.
  2. Review: Keep a running list of books and resources that the board has read in recent years, and inspire new board members to become familiar with the key concepts.
  3. Read! Don’t just talk about reading—do it!



Lord, many of us have experienced
profound personal insights by reading the right book at the right time.
Some of us have even made life-altering decisions after reading significant books.
So guide us in our selection of books. Amen.



[1] John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), 188.

[2] Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld, “What Makes Great Boards Great.” Posted September 2002. Harvard Business Review:

From Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom: 40 Insights for Better Board Meetings, 2018,

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.