Vision Growth Must Equal Leader Growth

Caution! Vision-casting often backfires.


by Dan Busby and John Pearson


If the board and the CEO have lasting substantive differences,
they have a choice: stay with the strategy or replace the CEO.
Consider that management has a shelf life too, just like the strategy.[1]

Ram Charan

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I was the very young executive director of a Christian camp and conference center in the Northwest. Its rich ministry history was remarkable given the postage stamp-size property—just ten acres.

It was my first CEO role, and my board was both encouraging and forgiving. But board meetings tended to focus on budgets, buildings, and banquets (the fundraising type). So I asked several mentors how I could raise the vision of the board.

“Schedule a vision-casting trip,” was the common wisdom.

So I did. We scheduled a board retreat at Warm Beach Camp and Conference Center, the largest and most effective camping ministry in Washington. I asked Bob McDowell, the camp’s visionary leader, to facilitate the weekend, inspire our board, and give us a tour of the property (which was huge, in our eyes).

Bob was so gracious and amazingly gifted. His talks were extraordinary. His vision for ministry—stunning. His unique gifting impressed: pastor, pilot, pianist, prophet, and people person.

And boy, did he raise the vision quotient of our board members!

Our board retreat included spouses, so on Saturday afternoon, Bob piled all of us onto the camp bus (they had their own bus!) for a tour of all 278 acres. His transparency was vivid. “We built those buildings a few years ago, but we made some mistakes. Learn from our lessons.”

Bob drove as he narrated the history and long-range plans of this very special ministry, now with more than 600 beds.

He shared, what today we would label, a “Big Holy Audacious Goal”—and none of us doubted that the plans would be realized.

Oh, my. This imaginative leader, with a bold faith and a humble heart, was just what our board needed. (Little did I know.)

My wife, Joanne, overheard a board member’s wife whisper to her husband, “Where do you think we could get an executive director like Bob?”

Joanne was only slightly offended, and to her credit shared that observation only with me. I laughed, not really worried about my tenure. Years later, though, I understood the lesson that I should have learned that day—and the lesson that all boards must learn: Do we have the right CEO leading us for this unique season of ministry? As stewards of the ministry (“stewards of a sacred trust,” as David McKenna pronounces this holy duty[2]), board members must keep this big question on the front burner.

Ram Charan notes the two most important issues that boards must continuously address: “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.”[3]

Sometimes growth overwhelms leaders. We can handle 1X size of ministry and responsibilities, but not 3X.

Boards must be equally discerning when recruiting and selecting a CEO as they are when determining if it is time for their current CEO to exit. It’s often the most difficult decision a board will face—but they must. Many times only a new CEO with fresh thinking and fresh energy will bring new passion and perhaps needed gifting for your organization’s next season of ministry.



When you inspire your board to elevate its vision,
sometimes that vision may require an exit plan
for the CEO who is unable to deliver on that vision.
But that’s okay.

  Board Action Steps:

  1. Read: Discuss the questions in Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask at your next board retreat, or select one or two questions per board meeting during your “10 Minutes for Governance” segment.
  2. Vision-cast: Hold your next board meeting or board retreat at a ministry location that will inspire the board to think courageously about the future.
  3. Pray: “Oh, Lord, give me faith for this leap to the future. And make this a leap of leadership, not a solo jump.”[4]



Lord, give our board wisdom and discernment
as we encourage and support our ministry’s CEO.
And give us courage to address early on those specific areas
where our leader needs to grow. Amen.




[1] RamCharan, Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask (San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009), 70–71.

[2] David L. McKenna, Stewards of a Sacred Trust: CEO Selection, Transition and Development for Boards of Christ-centered Organizations (Winchester, VA: ECFAPress, 2010), vii

[3] Charan, Owning Up, 68.

[4] Richard Kriegbaum, Leadership Prayers (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1998), 113.

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.