Imagine that you have just been elected to the position of Board chair – and not because you were the only one willing to accept nomination. The other Directors believe you have the competencies to handle the challenge of the position. In this article we review one of the most important competencies of the Board chair – accountability. Intuitively, this is what your peers on the Board believe you have.
Accountability – the objective evaluation of working relationships and performance of self and others.
The Board chair is appointed by the Board who must provide the authority to the chair for the fulfilment of the role. The Board is also the source of authority to its only employee, the CEO and through him or her, authority flows throughout the organization to all staff. The Board chair is the chief servant of the Board, not the individual with the most authority or power in the organization.
Lack of accountability is arguably the most significant problem in Christian organizations for it lies at the heart of many, if not all problems. An accountability mechanism is required at all points of interface between source and recipient of authority, in order to review the working relationship and performance. Yet accountability of Board members, even the Board chair, is rare. This is despite the responsibility that the Board has in governing the whole organization and the performance of Board chair in determining the success or failure of the Board.
Accountability is frequently misunderstood and is often interpreted in a negative way conveying the idea of punishment and discipline. “Aren’t Christians taught to forgive? Where then is the place for accountability?” It is thinking like this that causes Christians to shy away from accountability!
Accountability is simply about measurement and monitoring. It looks at the relationship between source and recipient of authority. Accountability is a two-way process, with opportunity to monitor both (or all) interfaces in a relationship. A sense of personal accountability is essential in order to sensitively and appropriately accept feedback and also hold another accountable.
It is not unknown for Board members to mistakenly assume that as the group with the greatest authority and control, they have no need to be held accountable. The Board, it is thought, is answerable to no one. However, the greater the circle of authority or power, the greater the opportunity to abuse authority and therefore the greater the need for accountability. With little training available for Board membership or Board office, the importance of giving and receiving feedback on performance is clear.
Informal interaction between the Board chair and members occurs regularly. However, a formal mechanism of accountability is also needed to give opportunity for excellence to be commended, problems to be addressed and working relationships strengthened. This should include the Board chair’s authority and associated limits, the responsibilities and expectations.
Despite the obvious practical difficulties, a regular, formal accountability review, particularly for those holding Board office, is essential and should occur on an annual basis. Specific Board members with the competencies to conduct such reviews need to be appointed.
Accountability is not simply an opportunity to be nice to each other. There is an inherent requirement in holding a person accountable to confront difficult issues when necessary. Accountability when fulfilled in a spirit of affirmation is a gift, not only in formally giving affirmation, but providing the opportunity to bring individuals back to a balanced centre point, preventing conflicts and misunderstandings and building positive relationships.
Les Stahlke, President/CEO
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