The relationship between board members and the organizational leader is a nuanced one. In many cases board members are also friends. This is often true on church boards where there may be a long relational history. In other cases, particularly in ministry settings, "Christian nice" is the culture of the board. We believe the best, want the best and assume the best - even in the face of evidence that there are issues that need to be pressed into.
Let's address the friendship issue. As an individual I may have a strong and long friendship with my organizational leader. As a board member, however, I am not there primarily as a friend but as a board member whose highest priority is the health and missional effectiveness of the organization. In the board room, therefore, my friendship cannot get in the way of asking the necessary and even hard questions and pressing into issues that are important for the organization.
This applies to the "Christian nice" that pervades so many boards. It amazes me that boards can ignore issues of organizational health and effectiveness in the face of evidence that it is not what it should be. All boards should be collegial - they are a team. All boards should also be engaged in honest, robust dialogue around clearly defined results for the ministry. The test of a good board meeting is not did we all get along and agree. The test is whether we addressed the real issues and engaged in honest dialogue about those issues - even if it was uncomfortable for some and for the organizational leader.
One of the great failures of boards in this regard is to clearly define the outcomes (ends) that the ministry is committed to. In the absence of clearly defined outcomes a board does not have an objective way of holding its organizational leader accountable. Everyone needs accountability and a target they are working toward. It also gives boards a yardstick for evaluation, dialogue, key questions to address and moves the conversation from "Christian nice" to objective results.
If you are a board member I would encourage you to ask these questions:
- Can I separate my personal friendship with the organizational leader from my role as a board member?
- Am I willing to ask the uncomfortable questions even in a board culture that wants a "Christian nice" ethos?
- Are there objective ends or outcomes that the ministry is committed to and which we can hold the leader accountable for?
- Does the board have a job description that clearly defines what its role is?