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Centerboard: Hire a Leader and Get Out of the Way!

April 2012
By: Tom Lothamer

What's an executive board's most important function? Approving and monitoring the budget? Setting policy? Raising support? Representing the PCC before the community?

All of these are important, but one other responsibility is absolutely critical to a ministry's success or failure.

What would that be? I suggest it's the hiring of the chief executive!

Why is that? Because this is the only employee the board directly hires and supervises, and because he or she will be the one to hire and oversee all other staff — including volunteers. This is true whether the chief executive is paid or unpaid.


Sadly, this is an area where many boards fail. They behave as though they do not trust the chief executive to make decisions — whether it's about hiring personnel, purchasing bulletin inserts, or selecting conferences to attend. Maybe the board got stuck in the "working" mode and failed to move on to the "policy setting" mode. Perhaps they're guilty of micromanaging. Or it could be they've chosen the wrong chief executive.

A situation I've observed more than once is PCC boards choosing chief executives who are compassionate with people but lack interest or ability in key administrative responsibilities. For instance, they excel at dealing with clients but don't focus on the big picture. They form close and loyal bonds with volunteers and staff members but are unable to delegate tasks, organize a work flow, or make hard decisions (such as firing personnel when necessary). They communicate passionately and move people to action, but they fail to grasp basic accounting principles or find it difficult to create a budget and operate within it. Keeping up with technology, maintaining compliance with government regulations, meeting legal requirements, reporting to the board, and other responsibilities may also not be their strong suit.

Which skill set is most needed in a chief executive? That's for a board to decide, but it needs to recognize that acuity in both compassion and administration often does not come in the same package. Certainly we want administrators to be compassionate; nonetheless, they must administrate!

Drafting a Job Description

It's not enough for a chief executive candidate to have been a long-term volunteer at the center, be well liked, or know someone on the board. He or she must meet criterion spelled out in a job description. And that's for the board to draft at the start of the hiring process. (Sample job descriptions, as well as many other recruiting and staffing tips, are available in the newly revised and updated Standards for Excellence manual.)

In addition to listing a chief executive's responsibilities and qualifications, the job description should spell out qualities of spiritual leadership: a clear testimony for Christ, a life characterized by fruit of the Spirit, a thorough commitment to the sanctity of human life, a strong work ethic, a desire to serve Christ and people, and a biblical understanding of ministry.


Besides drafting a comprehensive job description, what else must the board do?

• Bathe the whole process in prayer, start to finish. This is critical!

• Seek recommendations from people involved or familiar with the center — volunteers, staff, donors, pastors, pro-life leaders, etc. In other words, take care not to advertise the position where you're unlikely to find qualified individuals — in the newspaper, on Craigslist, or on Facebook. (Candidates should not be related to anyone on the board.)

• Organize resumes into categories such as "strong possibility" and "other" as you receive them.

• Make note of any deficiencies such as failure to answer questions, frequent job changes, or lack of clarity in communications.

• Scrutinize candidates' prior employment. Past performance is the best indicator of future performance.

• Check references and seek additional ones from those individuals or other sources.

• Perform background checks (including criminal and sex-offender lists) and credit checks. The chief executive occupies a position of trust, being principally responsible for oversight and spending of funds; therefore, such checks are appropriate and necessary.
Conduct personality tests, such as Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis or Myers-Briggs, to determine compatibility with the staff and job requirements.

• Prepare questions to be asked of each candidate during interviews. Questions should be open-ended, requiring more than one-word responses. Ask only questions relevant to performance of the job.

• Take notes and follow the 70/30 rule: the interviewer should listen 70 percent of the time and speak only 30 percent. Read body language during the interview.

After Hiring

Did you know that chief executives report to the board, but they are not members of it? They are ex officio, meaning they have no vote. They serve under the board's direction and supervision. 


The board is responsible to conduct annual performance reviews, identifying areas where the chief executive excels or requires improvement. As the board works with the chief executive, it may advise him or her to assign unmet expectations to other staff members or devise ways to gain competence in those areas. This may mean allocating budget funds for supplemental education or hiring additional staff.

The bottom line is this: The chief executive does not carry out every task on his or her job description but is responsible to see all are fulfilled.

Tom Lothamer is Executive Director of Life Matters Worldwide in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For more information, go to

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