TOOL 18 Review – Job Descriptions for the Top Leader and Board Chair

By John Pearson

The Number One Hiring Mistake!

What’s the Number One hiring mistake? According to the book, You're Not the Person I Hired! A CEO's Survival Guide to Hiring Top Talent, by Janet Boydell, Barry Deutsch, and Brad Remillard, it’s this:

“Inadequate job descriptions drove the hiring process; these focused solely on experience and skills, not company expectations. A staggering 93 percent of searches that resulted in new executive failure made this mistake at the outset.”

While you don’t “hire” a board chair—the principles are similar to when boards are recruiting a new CEO. Who should be your next board chair? Use a thoughtful job description to help drive the decision and the discernment process.


Use these sample job descriptions for the Board Chair and the CEO and then leverage these insights to refresh your thinking and your annual assessments.

Tool #18 in the new resource, ECFA Tools and Templates for Effective Board Governance, is one of three tools in Part 5, “Policies and Board Responsibilities,” in this jam-packed 272-page resource. This tool features 20 pages of resources on developing and refreshing two critical job descriptions: the CEO and the board chair.

Yikes! The authors of You’re Not the Person I Hired include this poke-in-the-board-ribs:

“The harsh reality is, when you define a job in mediocre terms,
you tend to attract and interview mediocre people.”

As you develop or refresh your board chair’s job description, the tool suggests you consider using David McKenna’s “nine M’s” to frame what he calls the “distinctive role of the board chair for the Christ-centered ministry.” Call of the Chair: Leading the Board of the Christ-centered Ministry lists nine roles:

  • Missionary, Model, and Mentor

  • Manager, Moderator, and Mediator

  • Monitor, Master, and Maestro

Under the “manager” role, McKenna writes, “Like a one-stringed banjo player, the chair will always sound the note reminding the members that the board’s role is policy, not execution.” (See Tool #17: Board Policies Manual.)

Worksheets for the CEO job description are also included in this tool—with thoughtful alignment to the Board Policies Manual template. While many CEOs tend to be overwhelmed with their visionary roles and responsibilities (and detailed to-do lists), Fred Laughlin and Bob Andringa’s book, Good Governance for Nonprofits, nets it out to just two major areas:

  • Organizational accomplishment of the major organizational goals, and

  • Organizational operations within the boundaries of prudence and ethics established in board policies on Executive Parameters in Part V.

If you’re starting with a blank sheet of paper, check out the recommended resources, including the ECFA Knowledge Center and the book from BoardSource, The Nonprofit Chief Executive’s Ten Basic Responsibilities (Second Edition), by Rick Moyers

Order the tools book from Amazon by clicking on this title: ECFA Tools and Templates for Effective Board Governance: Time-Saving Solutions for Your Board, by Dan Busby and John Pearson. The book gives you full access to all 22 tools and templates—formatted as Word documents so you can customize the tools for your board’s unique uses.

BOARD DISCUSSION: This tool suggests that before you write or refresh the CEO and board chair job descriptions, you position your thinking around priorities and results—and read the powerful book, The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan. Here’s a helpful axiom: “What’s the ONE Thing you can do this week such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?” (Click here to read my review.)

MORE RESOURCES: David McKenna wrote the guest blog for Lesson 22 in Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, by Dan Busby and John Pearson. In “The Most Underrated Board Position,” McKenna writes, “The board chair must have the character of being first among equals in integrity, trust, and humility.” Read his blog post here.


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.