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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

LESSON 21 - Back Off the Ledge of Dysfunctional Mayhem

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. John Ashmen is our guest blogger this week for the third of three lessons in "Part 6: Boardroom Time-Wasters, Troublemakers, and Truth-Tellers.”
LESSON 21 OF 40 - Back Off the Ledge of Dysfunctional Mayhem
When dysfunction reigns, healthy board members head for the door.

 In Lesson 21, we are introduced to six fictitious individuals who are all too real in many nonprofit boards. They end up in governance roles because of poor recruiting/vetting practices or cronyism, and are allowed to remain because those at the top lack the gallantry or diplomacy to address their disruptive and destructive behavior. 

This chapter calls out the fuddy-duddies, the goody-goodies, the know-it-alls, the power-grabbers, and the loose cannons. Moreover, it calls on board chairs to confront these underminers of progress in a timely manner for the sake of the organization. The underlying lesson is this: Having a scrupulous, courageous chair is paramount. 

MY FAVORITE INSIGHTS from Lesson 21, pages 104-108: 
•  “What do the [dysfunctional members] have in common? They distract the board from its responsibilities. Other board members wonder, with so many dysfunctional members, is it really worth their time to serve on this board?”
The insight: If you let your inept board members run free, they will eventually chase off the effective ones.  

I was recently asked by a NPO chair to spend an entire day meeting with his full board and CEO to help them do organizational triage. Their board was imploding. In fact, when I accepted the invitation, the ministry had 10 board members; when I arrived at the meeting location three weeks later, they were down to six—all dominant individuals who would gleefully launch into loud debate at the drop of a hat. Two of the members who resigned said they were tired of feeling bullied. The third said she was frustrated because nothing of lasting value was being accomplished. The fourth departed member gave no reason for leaving, but did say he wanted no further contact with the ministry.

At the end of our time together, we mapped out a pathway to peace and purposeful governance—but whether they will faithfully follow it remains to be seen. My doubt stems from the fact that the board’s behavioral patterns were years in the making: controller-type people seeking their same kind to serve; never addressing the cause of turmoil, just trying to fix the ramifications of it (which repeatedly took them into operations). I’m praying for God to give the principal players a spirit of contrition and a full measure of courage to confront the improper conduct. It could happen, but the longer that dysfunction is left to fester, the harder it is to heal. 


John Ashmen is president and CEO of the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, providing vision, advocacy, and resources for some 300 personal-transformation ministries throughout North America. His book, Invisible Neighbors, is considered by many to be a how-to manual for followers of Jesus who are serious about meaningful engagement with poor and powerless people. John previously served as vice president with Christian Camp and Conference Association. He is a National Association of Evangelicals board member and on the steering committee of the Circle of Protection, an alliance of national Christian leaders focused on ending hunger and poverty. 

• Determine if there has been any ongoing, underlying tension within the board and, if so, determine if it needs to be addressed one-on-one (chair and responsible person) or if it is pervasive and needs to be addressed openly during a board session.
• Make sure there is a good vetting system in place to ensure you get spiritually, intellectually, socially (i.e., mature social skills) qualified candidates for the board.  


On April 18, 2018, watch for David McKenna's commentary on Lesson 22, "The Most Underrated Board Position" and learn why "the position of board chair is pivotal to a healthy board."

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