Continued from I love Boards (1) …….
Boards remind me of the charming but hugely effective exercise known as “medical ward rounds,” when the young resident doctor is questioned and challenged, during presentations to his professor(s), and a team of say 10 colleagues and nurses. While he might display his “brilliance,” as he “presents” his patient’s problem and potential solution, and answers his team, his faults and deficiencies also become quite exposed to all. But, in an amazing way, support and solutions come readily and efficiently from different directions, to help him make good decisions for his patient.
The wise professor leading the team on rounds may not even need to directly say much, but in Socratic manner, just ask the right questions, like “What is the right diagnosis? Why? How do you know that? What is the next step? Why? What if….” And the squirming resident has to dig carefully, deep into his brain reserve files, to pull out the potential answers to all these important questions. Usually, literally on the spur of the moment. No time to pull out a book, no time to check online. As he is forced instantly to organize his responses, however, and connect his experiences with his accumulated medical knowledge, to “defend himself,” he learns so much from the exercise.
It’s really just as simple as that, in my view. Brilliant, but simple. Being ready, and disciplined, to answer all kinds of questions about your work, logically and knowledgeably, leads to wisdom. With, hopefully, a touch of extra wisdom and guidance from the learned professor. And the wonder of ward rounds can be simply translated to the wonder of good boards, whose main job is to sometimes just ask the right questions, at the right time, and give a gentle nudge to you, the advisee.
And so, in my last phase of my life, our family has attempted to provide a good transition and foundation for continued support of young missionaries, especially those who, for many years we have mentored and prayed for. We began, in the last decade, a small Heritage Youth For All Nations (YFAN) Foundation and gathered together a very fine board to help oversee the work. This board of dedicated faithful volunteers, drawn from people who have advised us in earlier phases of our lives, have now congregated to continue this advice and support, for a cause we love passionately. Even after we leave this world, the work can continue, which is truly comforting to us. And it is a bonus that they are all “very nice” people!
The Good Book clearly encourages us to have a multitude of counselors, but I am surprised sometimes that well-respected and strong leaders often may not have the support of strong advisors. Some people might think that, “if I have a group of my working team together, that would suffice.”
Indeed, we can do a lot with a good working team. This team however, in my view usually is basically an “executive team.” It works on projects driven by the leader, who initiates the projects, with or without modification. While that may be efficient, the team leader is missing out on others who are either his true peers, or have experience and wisdom beyond him.
When I work with my “executive team” they are usually not really my “peers,” but are often my followers, students, or staff, that I have chosen and often coached. Especially in an Asian context, this team often unconsciously will be more deferential to me, and therefore, the challenges to my ideas and thinking will be, by definition, more nuanced, and likely, less frank, consciously or unconsciously.
In my own view, the combination of a team of executors, backed by a team of advisors/board members, provides a much better accountability and solid advice for the leader, that will go much beyond the normal executive team. The board of advisors is definitely freer to challenge the leader, or suggest out-of-the-box ideas, and future or expanded visions.
This is I believe how, in all my years of work at the hospital and in various ministries, I could capture great ideas that were novel and truly visionary. After meeting and being inspired by my board of advisors, I translate the many great ideas through my executive team, to put them into action. There is a logical and mature transition from wise visionary idea generation, to wise and effective execution.
Plus, it really helps that the leader doesn’t go crazy with totally wild ideas, which are best refined when they are presented before a board of wise mature advisors. Imagine that I am dreaming of a vision that is so wild that my advisors are shocked at first, but as I’m presenting my proposal to them, I already sense in my mind that it doesn’t sound as good as I originally thought. So, I “catch myself” in mid-presentation, and make a sensible “course correction,” before it becomes “too crazy.” There is nothing like verbalizing your thoughts before a thoughtful group, that forces you to sharply focus and clarify the thinking in your own mind. Just like on medical ward rounds.
However, it is also possible that my wild idea catches the imagination of my board of advisors, who then fly with me, and encourage me to develop the idea further. This then might result in heated discussions, but I have the assurance and freedom to dream and explore. My board of advisors, being less deferential to me, will speak “truth to power” more readily, which is the “magic” of boards.
Of course, there are actually at least 2 main kinds of boards. A board of advisors, which is what we have mostly been talking about, should be composed mainly of advisors, and not executives, so it defeats the purpose if we start filling the board with executives. Further, this board is not my boss, in contrast to legal boards, who may give great advice, but their “advice” comes with a “stick,” since they usually pay my salary, and so are my boss. So, for the advisory board, I might not really even have to “take their advice.” Which means that I have the best of both worlds: I get the best advice, but I don’t necessarily need to “follow the advice totally.” Isn’t that wonderful? But of course, I do want their advice, because the advice is freely given, and potentially full of good wisdom. So, I should definitely think through this advice, even though it might not impress me at first.
Give the advice some thought, let the advice sit for a while, pray for divine wisdom, and we will all really get the most blessings. Once I had a very tough, but extremely wise Jewish advisor, who gave me a rather wild but decisive advice, after an excellent analysis of a difficult crisis I had in my hospital department. After some thought and prayers, and after consultation with my chief of the hospital, I chose to ignore his advice, but accept his clear analysis. It worked out very well, even though I did not take the conclusion of his advice! I knew that he was “only an advisor,” and not my boss! And history confirmed that my decision was ultimately the wisest decision.
Of course, clearly the selection of any board is of utmost importance. You always want faithful people of wisdom, who are not on your board for reasons of ego or self-pride. Specific expertise will be helpful, but a divisive spirit will make life very hard for your board, and for you. It will be a bonus if they are strong supporters of you personally, and your overall vision, but occasionally you do want someone who is harsh, and maybe not exactly your supporter, especially when you need to hear some tough honest advice.
It’s possible that you can work with this kind of a person on a one-to-one basis, so that he can be frank with you, and you can learn directly from him. I did that when I needed some frank critique of a difficult research project: I actually found a one-off advisor, whom I knew was practically an “enemy,” to personally review my research grant. While this could be risky, it turned out really well, because he gave some very critical advice, which I put to great use.
I think he was impressed that I was willing to take his advice. And in a nice twist of blessing, he was actually barred from later officially judging my research grant application, because he was now sort of considered an advisor, which could be potentially a “conflict of interest!” So, I got good advice and, unintentionally, removed a tough competitor as judge.
Viewed from many angles, professional and ministry, personal and organizational, the “multitude of counselors,” (or in modern words, boards of faithful advisors) will give you the greatest support and impact. Try this approach, if you haven’t done this before: I assure you, it is very effective! And fun!