317. Board Values and Board Governance.

In their book “Reviewing Leadership” (Second edition, 2016), Bernice Ledbetter, Robert Banks and David Greenhalgh include a chapter entitled “Governance: practicing faith-based leadership.” They suggest a number of leadership qualities that non-profit board leaders should exemplify under the general category of servant leadership, as well as discuss the importance of strategic leadership.

They urge board leaders individually to express in their work the values that define servant leaders, because this will guide them to adopt a “values-based approach” to their leadership responsibilities as board members. They also urge non-profit boards collectively to embrace values that enable the board as a whole to exercise”proper governance” (130). And so they recommend that non-profit boards distinguish between values “that inform purpose and those that guide the methods to achieve the purpose” (130). It is this proposal that forms the focus of this blog article.

As I reflected on this statement, the first question that came to my mind was this: is it possible to segregate board member’s values and board values in this way? Do individual board members guide their relationships and functions in the board by one set of values and does the board collectively use a different set of values to guide its purpose and operations? The writers explain that some values help “officers, committees, and individual board members” to engage in “specific governance actions” (130). The writers mention “inclusivity, trust and partnership” as important values that servant leaders must exhibit. Certainly, clearly articulated, biblically-grounded values should guide all church board members and board leaders in their decision-making, relationships, and operations. However, what different set of values might we identify “that inform purpose”? The writers do not seem to offer a list of values that should inform a board’s purpose. If I have understand the writers’ perspective correctly, I find it difficult to see that the three values that should inform servant leaders in their individual work, should not also guide board members collectively in fulfilling their governance responsibilities.

A second question soon followed, i.e., is it wise to make such a distinction? Values commonly associated with non-profit boards include integrity, truthfulness, transparency, missional focus and prioritization, legal rectitude, fair treatment of employees and clients, and trustworthiness. Non-profit organizations normally would seek board members who exemplified all of these values in their vocational and voluntary roles. Christian organizations would probably add a few more, such as commitment to the ‘agape’ principle and humbleness. Presumably each board member would strive to follow such values in their individual and collective board responsibilities. Servant leadership would be exemplified in their personal board conduct. However, the board collectively would demonstrate servant leadership in all of its governance work. When divergence occurs between an individual board member’s values and those values embraced by the board collectively, dysfunction will eventually occur in board operations.

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