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Developing Policies

We have policies for our Board, as well as for our Executive Team (three member CEO function), mandating that each entity "speak with one voice" once a vote is taken. We do not insist on consensus but do insist on "churning debate and exposure, an exciting place," as Carver puts it. I really like what John Carver says about consensus, " Consensus, if honestly achieved, is certainly workable, but requiring consensus before taking action is a prescription for either mediocrity or dishonesty."

It's tough to be one of the dissenting votes and to then "speak with one voice" regarding the action of the Board. We have had Board members who have wanted to voice their dissent publicly and we have needed to be firm with regard to what it means to be a member of the Board. Our policies are clear about the responsibility of Board members to support Board decisions once a vote is taken. Board members have, at times, needed to consider removing themselves from the Board. I see this action as regrettable but as a necessary step for the person to fully live out of their gifts and values in ministry.

With regard to parliamentary procedure—our policies state that we will use it unless we vote to suspend it. We generally suspend it as it applies to running the meeting but use it when discussion and voting take place.

—Gretchen C. Dorn, Unity Church-Unitarian, St. Paul, MN

"Why not phrase things positively?"

"In a nutshell, executive limitations draw the foul lines around the playing field, and free the players to play the game. They determine where the players can't play. Positive language feels friendlier, but in effect its more restrictive, because you are beginning to direct what the players can do. Implicitly, then, you take on the role of coach, to whom the players must look for approval and direction. This difference between stating ends in pro-active language and means in limiting language is the "most powerful tool" a Board can have," John Carver says.

And yes, it does feel counter-intuitive. As nurturing parents and teachers, we've learned to lead with positive, encouraging language. The crucial difference here is that a Board should be delegating the management and program leadership to staff and volunteer leaders who know more about a given task and have more time and energy to fulfill it than the Board itself does. It's not only that managing tends to devolve into micro-managing and bog down a Board for long, long hours—but also that managing presumes an expertise that needs to be safely entrusted and empowered in others. That essential safety is the Board's trusteeship role, and it's what limitations ensure.

Board members can also be volunteer leaders in areas of their own zest and skill. But when they do so, they take off their "Board hats."

It takes a while to wrap one's mind around this insight—but I find it becomes quite exciting.

—Marge Keip, Interim Minister, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Sonoma County, Santa Rosa, CA, 03/19/99

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Last updated on Monday, June 20, 2011.

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