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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

LESSON 19 - Never Throw Red Meat on the Board Table

Welcome to Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom Blog, a 40-week journey through the new book, Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, by Dan Busby and John Pearson. Each Wednesday, we're featuring a guest writer’s favorite snippet from the week's topic. David Wills is our guest blogger this week for the first of three lessons in "Part 6: Boardroom Time-Wasters, Troublemakers, and Truth-Tellers.”

LESSON 19 OF 40 - 
Never Throw Red Meat on the Board Table
Boards need advance preparation to fully address complex issues.

 In Lesson 19, we are reminded that healthy boards are well-prepared boards.

Max De Pree in Leadership Is an Art says, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.”  When board members walk into the board room they should well understand the reality of what they are about to experience. If they don’t, they will each walk in with their own reality and this creates “time-wasters and troublemakers.”

MY FAVORITE INSIGHTS from Lesson 19, pages 94-98: 
•  “If a board must create its own starting point, it can be a very painful process that ultimately diminishes productivity.”
• “[…some] issues are so complex that they require wisdom and discernment to decide how to properly prepare them for the board.”  

Discernment or Dynamite? When decision-making precedes discernment—you are in the danger zone.

There is a continuum that, if broken, will lead to poor outcomes. It goes like this: Discernment leading to Decisions leading to Direction which results in a Destination.  Of course, abiding in Christ and leveraging the gifts and experiences He gives us will determine how well we discern things…the sagacity factor.

The currency of great boards is great discernment.

Throwing red meat on the table often undermines discernment. This leads to poor decisions and an unfulfilled board. Board members will be uncomfortable coming back if this happens often. In addition, it will create an unhealthy meeting environment. Sort of like what is described in Ecclesiastes 5:2-3 (NIV):

“Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. A dream comes when there are many cares, and many words mark the speech of a fool.”

Red meat creates many words. Sometimes an explosion of words.

Additionally, healthy boards are very good at taking complexity and moving it toward simplicity. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. said, “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Red meat creates complexity. This is not what an organization’s leader needs from the board. 

That is not to say we don’t put complexity before a board. Quite the contrary. Boards thrive on generative conversations that lead to simplicity, good decisions, and sound direction.  

Let’s shoot for the “no surprises” standard. The organizational leader and the board chair should have a roadmap several weeks before the next meeting. This will allow for content to be delivered in such manner that the discernment process begins well before the meeting. Let the board know in advance what decisions are required so they are prepared to make wise ones. Point them to the critical sections of the board material.  In some circumstances, calls and meetings may be needed to prepare the board for maximum discernment.

Red meat is raw meat. The meat you serve your board should be well done…in advance! 


David Wills serves as President Emeritus of the National Christian Foundation and has been with NCF for the last 20 years.  As an organizational leader, David has served on dozens of boards and has both served (ugh!) and received more raw meat than he cares to remember.

• Engage the board chair early.
• Develop a road map for the meeting and the outcomes that are required.
• Engage board members as needed prior to the meeting—to set the meeting up for success.


On April 4, 2018, watch for Rich Stearns' commentary on Lesson 20, "Apply for a Staff Position and You Can Deal With That Issue! Help board members not to cross the line into operational details."

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