TOOL 9 Review – The Board's Annual Evaluation of the Top Leader

By John Pearson

“Spotting, Catching, or Exiting a Falling CEO”

Heed this caution from Ram Charan and his co-authors of Boards That Lead: When to Take Charge, When to Partner, and When to Stay Out of the Way:

“…it is useful for [board members] to keep a weather eye on early signs of executive deficits. Assuming that the [organization’s] central idea has been well formulated in the boardroom, three embryonic indicators, if ignored too long, often mushroom into far more:

  • lack of strategy,

  • failure to execute, and

  • wrong people calls.”


Review these templates—and then customize your annual process so it fits your unique situation and your unique top leader! (One size doesn’t fit all.)

Tool #9 in the new resource, ECFA Tools and Templates for Effective Board Governance, is one of six assessments in Part 2 of this jam-packed 272-page resource. Conducting an annual evaluation of the top leader (CEO or senior pastor—the one person who reports directly to the board) will help boards “to keep a weather eye on early signs of executive deficits.”

But the annual performance review is so much more than that. It’s also an opportunity to affirm the top leader, further leverage his or her strengths, and—sometimes—recommend a coach to enrich your CEO’s leadership in targeted areas.

This tool features a robust 22-page section with seven helpful resources and tools:

  1. Two Books: Two Insights

  2. Understanding the Context for the Top Leader’s Annual Assessment

  3. One Approach for the Annual Assessment of the Top Leader (Consultant Help)

  4. A Common Assessment Finding: “Delegation Deficiencies”

  5. Two Resources: BoardSource Online Assessments and CarverGuide7

  6. Four More Books: More Insights on Assessment of the Top Leader

  7.  “Cut-and-Paste” Template for Online Survey: Top Leader Annual Assessment

The 10-page “cut-and-paste” template for an online survey can be dropped into most survey tools such as SurveyMonkey or others. Section D of this survey encourages boards to review their CEO’s top-five strengths from the CliftonStrengths®/StrengthsFinder assessment—and then respond to a Yes/No question, “In your opinion, do people around our CEO help him maximize these Top-5 strengths?”

There’s also space for seven open-ended questions, such as “What should our top leader STOP doing in his/her leadership role (or style) in order to become a more effective leader for the organization?” This add-water-and-stir assessment template parallels many of the 20 core competencies detailed on my Management Buckets website.

Why address strengths? According to strengths gurus Tom Rath and Barry Conchie, “While the best leaders are not well-rounded, the best teams are.” (Read my review of Strength Based Leadership.) Don’t inappropriately evaluate your CEO on strengths or spiritual gifts that were not God-given. No leader is the complete package. Instead, leverage the unique God-given gifts of your CEO—and inspire your CEO to build a well-balanced team.

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: Why strengths? The authors of Strengths Based Leadership write, “The odds of an employee being engaged are a dismal one in 11 (9%). But when an organization’s leadership focuses on the strengths of its employees, the odds soar to almost three in four (73%).” Are we leveraging our CEO’s strengths? Are we leveraging the strengths of our board members?

MORE RESOURCES: Guest blogger Ed Morgan notes in his color commentary on “Spotting, Catching, or Exiting a Falling CEO,” that “…the cardinal sin of omission by the board is the lack of yearly evaluations against board-approved goals.” Read more in Lesson 26 in Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom: 40 Insights for Better Board Meetings, by Dan Busby and John Pearson.


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.