302. “Results-Based leadership” — Is this An Important Perspective For Church Boards?

A number of years ago D. Ulrich, J. Zenger, and N. Smallwood published “Results-Based Leadership” (Harvard Business School Press, 1999). Their thesis is quite simple. Leadership studies were focusing on various, important elements of leadership such as competencies, character, and capacity, but seemed to have overlooked the “so that” question. Their formula suggested that effective leadership = attributes x results. In particular they argue that effective leaders generate results that can be measured. “A leader’s job requires more than character, knowledge, and action: it also demands results” (17).

I would suggest that this perspective applies to the life of a church board. We talk profusely about the character of a board (collectively and individually), the knowledge board members require to function effectively, and the various kinds of actions that boards take (e.g., decision-making, performance evaluation, defining outcomes, etc.), but the true measurement of an effective church board has to be in the results they achieve. Yet, church boards normally do  not pause to assess whether they in fact are achieving good results. But if this assessment never occurs, church boards have no means of assessing their effectiveness.

The premise is this — if church boards cannot discern results from their collective, governance leadership, how do they know they are leading and leading in the right direction? Just keeping the operation going is not strategic leadership.

Perhaps part of the problem is that church boards do not define the results desired or expected from their collective work. And so members of a church board cannot measure whether their collective work is having good effect because they do not know what those outcomes are. Results focus on the outcomes, not the means and much that happens in church board meetings tends to concentrate on means, i.e., reports and management issues. So church boards at their annually retreat need to spend time figuring out what they need to accomplish as a church board in the next 12, 24 or 36 months in order to advance the church’s mission and vision.

Why do church board’s give attention to policy review and development? They do so because some of the outcomes they have include excellence in governance, clarity in roles, responsibilities and accountability, and good communication. Why do church board’s spend time with their key leader discerning vision? It is because they are motivated to discern God’s direction for their future together and define as clearly as possible what goals they should choose in order to move their mission forward. Why is annual performance evaluation of a key leader essential for the health of the congregation? The answer is clear — it is a key way the church board has to discern whether it is achieving its established, desired outcomes. The lead pastor is the primary means a church board has to reach its collective goals.

Results-based leadership functioning in a congregation does not focus on numbers, but rather on achieving stated outcomes consistent with the values and mission of that congregation. This surely role has to be an essential part of the mandate entrusted to a church board by the congregation and for which a congregation rightly holds a church board accountable.

Here are some questions to help you evaluate the situation of your church board:

  1. Does your church board have 5 – 7 specific outcomes that, if achieved, will also achieve the vision approved by the board?
  2. Are these outcomes measurable?
  3. Is the lead pastor clear that these outcomes define his or her primary responsibility for which the church board will hold him/her accountable and around which the annual performance evaluation will be conducted?
  4. Has the church board given the lead pastor the authority and resources necessary to achieve the outcomes?
  5. Are the reports presented by the lead pastor to the board focused on progress towards achievement of these outcomes?
  6. Is the annual assessment of the church board’s operations also oriented to discerning how its actions have contributed to achieving these outcomes?
  7. Is the church board prepared to take corrective action to improve its capacity and that of the lead pastor to achieve these stated outcomes?
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