By Peter K. Greer (originally posted at peterkgreer.com)
Surrounded by Revolutionary War battlefields, I joined a dozen faith-based nonprofit leaders from across the country for a unique learning experience. Using the methodology of "peer member processing," our two days together would focus on helping each other go to war on the most significant challenges we faced.
In preparation for the experience, we were asked to come with our response to one simple question: What is the most significant obstacle you are currently facing?
In small groups, we would confront these obstacles, with the goal of helping each leader discover a positive resolution, or at least identify a few of the next steps to take.
Driving to the event, I wondered how many would choose to talk about the seemingly impossible task of "balancing" work and family. Or how many would focus on the challenges of fundraising. Maybe strategy would come up. Or operating in a rapidly shifting culture.
But the issue that felt most urgent was my relationship with my board. We were in a season in which we were facing key decisions and operational dilemmas.
Compounding these challenges was my sense that I was receiving conflicting counsel from several board members. How was I supposed to follow the directions of my "bosses," when one board member's advice sometimes contradicted another's?
Given my deep respect for each board member, and knowing each had the organization's interests in mind, I was confused. There was no question that our intentions were all in the right place, but our practices were leading to conflict and confusion.
Arriving at the retreat center, the group of nonprofit leaders began sharing their obstacles, and a pattern quickly began to emerge: One after another, leaders shared that their greatest difficulty related to some aspect of their relationship with their board. Turns out, my challenges were not unique.
It quickly became clear that we were each describing variations on the same theme: the board CEO relationship is exceptionally challenging. It's a proverbial minefield, with the potential to sabotage an organization: creating dissention, thwarting progress, undermining impact, and knocking it off mission. And it's not just organizational leaders who acutely feel the challenge associated with this relationship. Board members often grapple with similar issues. Seldom is their relationship with the CEO easy to manage.
Healthy organizations require a healthy board-CEO relationship. Channeled in the right way, their engagement can result in fresh perspectives and new growth rather than perilous pitfalls. For an organization's health and vitality, there is no more important, or more complex, relationship to navigate.
Over the past year, David Weekley and I have been working on a simple book to help leaders develop a vibrant board-CEO relationship. Today, we are launching this book with the hope that it might equip leaders to have an even greater impact. We focus on seven practices found in the healthiest board-CEO relationships:
- Mission, Not Ego
- Clarity, Not Confusion
- Consistent Communication, Not Mystery
- Accountability, Not Platitudes
- Healthy Conflict, Not Kumbaya
- Prepared, Not Panicked
- Involved, Not Detached
Ultimately, for the board-CEO relationship to truly flourish, these practices need to be built on a foundation of service. As the apostle Paul wrote, "Honor one another above yourselves."
Peter Greer is President and CEO of HOPE International, a global Christ-centered microenterprise development organization serving throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. Greer will be speaking at Northwestern's November Fuel Leadership Conference.