The Board in the Boat, Part 2

By John Pearson

In my last blog (Part 1), I began a series on strategy alignment with “The Board in the Boat.”

I asked, “Imagine—if your board had the elegance, the unity, and the team harmony of a precision rowing crew, the world’s finest!”

This month in a professional publication for CEOs and board members in the credit union profession, Joel Trammel’s addressed this question in his article, “Align Your ‘Rowers’ With Your Strategy.” While he focused on staff members—the same issues relate to board members. He writes:

“Do any of these sound familiar?
• The guy who’s doing really powerful, fast strokes—in the opposite direction of everyone else.
• The gal toward the back of the boat who’s barely pulling on her oars (and thereby demoralizing the people sitting behind her).
• The guy who appears to be rowing along with everyone else, but is covertly pulling the left oar a bit harder to move the boat in the direction he feels is best.
• The gal who’s so utterly concentrated on perfecting the minutiae of her own form that she can’t see she’s out of sync with everyone else.”

What is the cost in ministry impact when your board members are not all pulling in the same direction?

If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you’ve seen this next quotation before. (Maybe you’ve memorized it!) It’s worth repeating at every board meeting:

Ram Charan preaches:
“There is nothing more important for a CEO than having the right strategy and right choice of goals, and for the board, the right strategy is second only to having the right CEO.”

This assumes one foundational principle: there is a strategy!

In his book,
Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask , the fifth question is simply, “Does Our Board Really Own the Company’s Strategy?” Charan recommends that at every board meeting, every board member has the organization's two-page strategy document on the board table. (Is your strategy summarized in just two pages?)

Discussion should always then flow back to the question: “Does this new idea or change in our programs, products, or services align with our board-approved strategy?”

Charan again: “Boards need to understand basic strategy, but it’s not their job to create it.”

QUESTION: As you pray to discern God’s strategic direction for your ministry, is everyone rowing in the same direction, based on your written strategy?


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.