• address

    Questions for Dr. Les Stahlke

    For questions and comments please contact us. Contact US

  • old-versions

    Governance Articles

    Free governance articles for not-for-profit organizations and churches. Read Articles

  • bestseller

    Consulting Course

    Are you interested in becoming an independent consultant licensed in the Relationship Model™? It’s an ideal way to support the work of not-for-profit organizations and churches. Learn More

Misunderstanding of “Trust”


We like to think that we should build our relationships on trust. We believe that trust is a value that we owe to one another and that others owe to us. Accountability seems like the opposite of trust. “Why do you want me to report to you? Don’t you trust me?” This misunderstanding of trust as something that we should give to one another without anything coming back is another sign that accountability systems are missing or aren’t working. Forgiveness is free, but trust is expensive. The price of trust is the performance and behavior which demonstrates trustworthiness. Accountability is simply the process that confirms the trustworthiness. Think of trust as a beautiful statue. Trustworthiness is the pedestal of performance upon which the stature rests. Fail to maintain the pedestal by ignoring accountability and watch how it weakens the relationship until trust is dashed to pieces. When I meet with a church board for the first time, the board members invest a certain amount of trust into my “trust account.” After all, I’ve been invited by their leaders, and come with some credentials and a recommendation from another church. During my presentation, however, they will make their own assessment. This is the normal and natural process of accountability. If what I say demonstrates my willingness to listen and my ability to meet their needs, they may deposit more trust into my account. A contract to work with them usually follows. But were I to make light of their situation, insult them and demonstrate no sensitivity to their real needs, their deposit of trust would soon be “spent.” The negative balance in my trust account would result in never being invited to return.

“pages 13-14, Church Governance Matters”

Governance at Baobab College, Lusaka, Zambia


Baobab College has been going through a period of rapid and exciting development. The most obvious signs of this are our new buildings but some of the most interesting innovations and perhaps most important are not visible at all. A good example of this is our new model of governance. Over the last 2 years our Board of Governors and staff have been undergoing training on a new relationship model of governance, for values-based not-for-profit organisations, which puts people and values ahead of power and profit. Please see below an explanation of this unique model of governance, which we have adopted in our school.
Introduction to the Relationship Model


People live and work within relationships. Relationships are the human operating system. In order to make our lives and our work successful and fulfilling, we need to apply the natural principles of relationships by establishing the values, structures and the processes of relationships throughout our organization.
In the Relationship Model, values, structure and processes form the basis of governance, leadership, management and service delivery. The roles of governance, leadership and management differ, but the principles that underlie them are the same. There is a continuity of design from an organization’s membership to the point where the clients receive the services.
A successful working environment is one in which there is a balance between the fulfilment of the individuals doing the work and the fulfilment of the people for whom the work is done.

Putting emphasis on healthy relationships means investing a great deal of attention on the values, the structures and the processes that make up relationships. We have all observed that healthy and fulfilled men and women are more productive than unhealthy, dysfunctional people.
Understanding how to build and maintain healthy working relationships is critical for successful management of human and financial resources. The basic design of relationships is disarmingly simple. Yet the application of these values, structures and processes is a lifelong experience, and a complex one at that. It is necessary to maintain a focus on the design of relationships in order to succeed at living out the Relationship Model.


VALUES (The Way we Use Power)

Our values determine our behaviour. In order to have an effective organization, all who work together must share the same values. When values are shared there is a built-in tendency to be able to work with the same operating system — within the same structure and with the same processes. There are many categories of values and many values in each category. The list of our values is as long as we want it to be. In the Relationship Model, we have identified three core relationship-oriented values. Together they form the foundation of successful working relationships.

  1. Affirmation
    Affirmation is fundamental to healthy and productive relationships. Affirmation is the most elemental of all values. It encourages, builds, enables, empowers and ensures the fulfilment of each individual in your organization. It encourages calculated risk. Affirmation enables mistakes to fuel a learning culture instead of a blame culture. Our affirmation of others and ourselves is the most significant factor influencing the structure and the processes of our relationships.
  2. Involvement
    Involvement means collaboration. It affirms the unique contribution of each individual in the organization. It means that people are involved in the decision-making process, especially in matters where they are personally affected. Involvement increases ownership and commitment, making individual fulfilment and organizational effectiveness more likely. It unlocks enormous potential through synergy, and allows organizations to make changes more effectively.
  1. Servant Leadership
    Servant leadership means lifting people up instead of putting them down. It’s a quality that characterizes those who are the source of authority to others in a relationship-oriented organization. Servant leadership includes such values as care, concern, valuing the worth of others, service and support. Servant leadership can be demonstrated by anyone who is in a position of authority in an organization. In any organization everyone has some authority. We often think of authority in a “top-down” manner. Our organizational charts, which place the “highest” level of authority at the “top”, suggest the opposite of the kind of authority that supports those above. A better organizational “chart” is the image of the tree where those with the most authority support those above.


1. Authority
Authority includes authorization, resources (human and financial resources, information and time) and competencies. As in a tree where nutrients rise to nourish the entire tree and its fruit, authority flows upwards to the top of your organization to empower its people to produce services for the clients. Authority at any level in your organization is always limited by the person or group who is delegating authority to others.
2.Limitations of Authority
Limitations are the elements of a relationship that define the boundaries of authority and therefore the extent of our freedom in fulfilling our responsibility. Limitations are normally expressed in negative terms. In an organization defining limitations of authority eliminates the need for returning to the source of authority repeatedly for permission to act. Limitations may be adjusted to maintain a balance between authority and responsibility.
Responsibility is the broad description of the purpose for a position within your organization. It is usually contained in the relationship description of an individual or a group. Healthy relationships always balance authority and responsibility. Responsibility is further defined by the expectations of the responsibility.

  1. Expectations of Responsibility
    Expectations are the adjusting components of responsibility. In a relationship-oriented organization expectations are negotiated, not imposed, in order to achieve a balance with the authorization and resources that are available. They are usually expressed in the form of goals, standards and specific tasks. Goals may be strategic or tactical. Standards may range from the minimum quality we expect of one another to the quality to which we aspire.

Accountability is the monitoring and measuring component of a relationship. The first role of accountability is to monitor the balance of authority and responsibility in each relationship and to monitor compliance with limitations and expectations. The second role is to measure strategic and tactical results. The annual relationship review is the primary opportunity for accountability. Often given a negative connotation, accountability in The Relationship Model™ gives an opportunity for recognition and learning as well as correction. Accountability is a neutral process. It’s the gift we too often fail to each to one another.

Process is critical to the success of any group. The six core processes of governance are:
• Communication
• Conflict Resolution
• Decision-Making
• Strategic Planning
• Delegating Authority and Responsibility
• Monitoring and Measuring (Accountability)
The Relationship Model™ offers the most natural means of giving an effective design to your organization. No major paradigm shift is required. At the same time we will realize how important it is to use the conceptual framework that this model offers when we build a governance structure and when we process information.
Structure is the vehicle. Process is the journey. The way we use power reflects the quality of our driving.
The combination of values, structure and process may be synthesized into ten basic principles that define The Relationship Model. Using these principles as a checklist can help a Board to verify that the values, structures and processes used within an organization are consistent with the Relationship Model. The checklist can also assist a Board to identify weaknesses and to give guidance toward making adjustments that will improve relationships and productivity.


1 The organisation seeks a balance between the fulfilment of the needs of the clients and the personal fulfilment of the staff and volunteers.
2 The affirmation, involvement and servant leadership of every individual and group at every level in your organization are vital to the success of your organization.
3 Authority, responsibility and accountability are the primary components of all relationships. Limitations of authority and expectations of responsibility are the secondary components.
4 Circles of authority and responsibility are defined clearly and are maintained equal in size by negotiating limitations of authority or expectations of responsibility.
5 The Board of Directors, acting on information from all stakeholders, is responsible for strategic planning: defining beneficiaries, services/needs, vision, mission and priorities, monitoring performance and measuring results.
6 The CEO is responsible for managing the delivery of services to the clients in accord with Board-stated priorities and for achieving the strategic goals within the limitations of the authorization and resources available.
7 Each individual has a share in responsibility for creating, owning, understanding and implementing the mission of your organization.
8 Decision-making proceeds from shared values, vision and mission, not unilaterally from the Board or the CEO. Decisions are made as close as possible to where they are implemented.
9 The organization is results oriented. Indicators of results are identified. Strategic and tactical goals are set in balance with available resources. Results are measured.
10 Accountability is mutual. The source of authority is accountable to the recipient for providing adequate authorization and resources. The recipient is accountable to the source for achieving negotiated results. Accountability is a neutral process.

Member-elected Board or Self-perpetuating Board? Does it matter?

thumbs up

We have noticed what may be a trend in recent years away from boards that are elected by members and towards boards that elect themselves. There are several reasons for this phenomenon.

  1. Organizations that are new begin with a founding board that comprises the original membership required for registration. Focused on their new reason for being, they sometimes never seem to get around to developing a membership from among those who share their Mission.
  1. There seems to be less interest for people to “join” causes. At a time when social media allows self-expression without belonging to a formal organization, there seems to be less need and less interest in becoming a member of any one organization. It’s easy to support whatever need appears next. Crowdfunding is growing rapidly – with no organization at all.
  1. Closely related to this last one are the existing members of existing organizations. Older members are dying and the younger ones aren’t very interested in attending annual meetings. The decisions, including elections, seem “cut and dried” already anyway.
  1. Boards are often frustrated in finding the right kind of people to whom its Directors can pass on the torch. Why bother with a member-election when the board know better anyway who meets the need for governance in the future?

Does it matter?

Yes, it matters, because there is a very important element in organizational relationships that is lost in this transition. Accountability.

Every human being or group is accountable to another human being or another group. In the human universe there are no exceptions to this rule. True, there are many efforts to avoid accountability within groups, but I have found it rare for boards to deliberately try to avoid accountability.   More often, there is a simple lack of awareness that there is any real benefit to building a strong membership to whom the board will be accountable.

What I find to be the most common is that boards are a group of healthy people who are so committed and have such integrity that members trust them to do the right thing even if that includes transferring the right to elect future board members to the present board members. Something important is being overlooked here.

It’s ironic that it’s the integrity of most boards that results in such strong trust that boards and members both forget that trust is based on trustworthiness. That’s all accountability is. It’s weighing the board’s performance in the scales and finding it worthy of trust. Or not. The process of accountability is neutral. It can result in re-election or change in board membership.

What appears to be a lack of interest is actually an accountability process that is so informal and without structure that it’s invisible. You can be sure, however, if it became known that the board was self-serving and damaging the organization, the membership would become aware and want to do something about it.

Members are the owners of not-for-profit organizations and churches. There are three basic rights of members that form the pillars of accountability that must be strengthened to maintain healthy organizations with healthy boards.


  1. Members have the right to assemble, directly or through their elected representatives.


  1. Members have the right to draft, revise and approve bylaws, the document that describes the two relationships between the membership and individual members and the relationship between the membership and the board.


  1. Members have the right to choose the board members to govern the organization or church that they own.


Each of these rights is accompanied with an equal responsibility. That is where it takes a trained board to assist the members to understand their rights and responsibilities and not to take the easy way out to excuse the members of their responsibility and weaken their right to elect their board in the process.


I have often said that if a board does not hold itself accountable, no one is likely to do it. That is a reality of life today, and forms the main reason why boards have to work to develop a membership, report regularly and with integrity to the membership, and encourage the membership to take the election of the board seriously.


Members and donors or funders are the root structure of the organizational tree. The board is the trunk, bearing the weight of everything that happens above it in the tree. Active members with a healthy flow of authority and resources to the board give the tree stability. Developing the root structure instead of allowing it to dissipate because it’s invisible and doesn’t seem to do anything useful is a very significant challenge for boards today.


Elections by members matter!