December 2012


A Christmas Gift for Your Board
By John Ashmen

For this last Executive Session of the year, I decided to give you a present you can re-gift and stick under your board chair’s Christmas tree. It’s something I hope is not needed anytime soon (especially for your sake). And unfortunately, it’s something he or she might not want to accept from you at the time it is needed.

The idea for this gift comes from my observing and consulting in seven traumatic leadership turnovers at AGRM member missions this year. All of them have caused angst and anguish for numerous parties, and have scarred the missions in one way or another. In some cases, it will take years for healing and to regain the trust and confidence of their communities.

My present is six “don’ts” wrapped in advice gleaned from 30 years of experience in association management, working with Christian organizations that have volunteer boards. It is trimmed with a few axioms that apply in situations of tumultuous turnovers.


What Not To Do If You Find Yourself in an Awkward Leadership Transition

Dear Board Members,

  1. Don’t rush to make multiple changes. The tendency is for board members to immediately become autocratic, and break down the door to operations to start examining, questioning, and discarding. They become like monkeys in the cockpit, throwing out everything that isn’t eatable. Rather, it’s wise to change only those things that are necessary to get through the next month. Then just take things one month at a time.
  2. Don’t put board members in charge of operations. Another tendency is to have one of the board members be an acting CEO; department heads are to check in with him or her by phone daily or weekly. (A turgid version of this is to appoint different board members to oversee different departments.) Regardless of a board member’s administrative experience, having any board members involved in rescue mission management is a recipe for disaster. In 30 years, I have never seen this work well. The problems only multiply and intensify. If you absolutely have to do this, have the board member resign from the board before jumping into operations.
  3. Don’t do a nebulous or negative press release. There is nothing to be accomplished by casting doubt about someone’s performance. Unless there is proven malfeasance that has led to an indictment being issued, talk about the positive things that the leader has done and then talk about the future. Forgo acrimony. Convey aspirations.
  4. Don’t neglect the rest of the staff. The worst thing a board can do is to keep the team in the dark during a transition. Surveys show that workers want two things most in their employment—more than higher wages and better benefits: to feel “in on things,” and to have a full appreciation of their work. (Many people who are downline from transition instinctively wonder if they will be the next to go.) Have a confidential all-staff briefing so everybody hears the same thing. Honestly share the necessary facts. Be positive. Do a repeat performance every week until everything is back on track. Choose one person to be the recipient of all ongoing questions and concerns. When explanations aren’t forthcoming, people draw their own conclusions. When a clear vision is not presented, people lose hope.
  5. Don’t immediately reject the idea of having an interim leader. Having a seasoned executive temporarily step into the role is a very wise move. It allows the board to concentrate on selecting the best possible CEO, assess financial strategies, and handle policy realignment. A veteran interim leader does not need very much orientation. Moreover, in his or her three- or six-month stint, he or she can objectively assess the goings on and make hard decisions or recommend actions from a perspective of a seasoned outsider. At AGRM, we have a stable of interim leaders we can recommend—people who can move to where the mission is and be the “go-to guy” for as long as needed.
  6. Don’t go into isolation mode. Whether it’s caused by embarrassment, panic, insecurity, inexperience, or little bit of everything, a lot of boards hunker down behind closed doors—like cardinals debating a new pope. Not until the white smoke appears is there any clue to the changes that will be forthcoming. That is not to say that others need to know the internal business of a mission in transition. But reaching out can really be helpful. Reach out to a consultant who can provide recommendations. Reach out to other mission board chairs who have gone through the same thing at their places. Reach out to AGRM. We are your best resource for transition, including offering help the outgoing CEO. We are a safe and confidential place to seek advice. We have seen it all and know what works and what doesn’t. Best of all, our expertise is available at no charge for member missions.
Below are a few quotes that will inspire you as you go through a leadership transition:

"Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don't interfere as long as the policy you've decided upon is being carried out." — Ronald Reagan

"Management by objectives works if you first think through your objectives. Ninety percent of the time you haven't." — Peter Drucker

“It's a good idea to keep your words soft and sweet because you might have to eat them.” — Charles Lawton

"Because a thing seems difficult for you, do not think it impossible for anyone to accomplish." — Marcus Aurelius

"The secret of managing is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided." — Casey Stengel

“A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit.” — John C. Maxwell

“Your own soul is nourished when you are kind; it is destroyed when you are cruel.” — King Solomon


I have a few more favorite sayings, but I don’t have time to include them. The light above phone line number three is blinking. I’m told it’s a rescue mission board chair with a problem. But don’t worry; it’s not your board chair…I don’t think.


When our early bird convention registration ended on the 15th of this month, we more than doubled the number of advance registrations we had last year. AGRM’s 100th annual convention in Phoenix (June 11–14) will be a tremendous event. Start planning now to come with several of your staff. This will be a big deal. They probably won’t be around for the next 100th.


In early January, we’ll contact you about people in the public eye who might like to do a brief congratulatory video to AGRM on the occasion of its centennial. Please start thinking now about the recognizable people to whom you’re connected. Also, we would love to get brief (one minute or shorter) testimonies of people whose lives were changed through an encounter with Christ at your mission.


Thank you to those who have sent an end-of-year gift to AGRM. It is most appreciated. For those who are still considering it, donations can be made online or sent to AGRM at: 7222 Commerce Center Drive, Suite 120, Colorado Springs, CO 80919.


The last thing I wanted to leave you with is a note I just received from Karen Yuschak from StreetLight Mission in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Karen was recently elected to the AGRM board. I asked her permission to share this:

Hi John,

I just wanted to share with you that the Newtown shooting is close to home for me. I was born in Danbury, the city next to Newtown. I lived 12 miles from the Sandy Hook Elementary School. I went to kindergarten right near there myself.  My sister lived in Newtown when her children were young. Both of my sisters, their families, and my parents live not far away in Middlebury. We have spent many days in that area.

The principal who died was from Naugatuck, my hometown. She graduated from my high school and went to school with my sister.

As you can imagine, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the tragedy and what we can do to prevent horrific things like this from happening. At our mission we deal every day with those who struggle with mental illness—people who are bounced out of medical care so quickly with little hope of long-term sustained treatment. Countless numbers of mentally ill have been abandoned by their families who struggle with hopelessness. We so need to look at long-term solutions to the problems of mental illness as a nation. So often in rescue we are the only ones who remain standing with them.

Last night we held a Christmas party for more than 600 people who are struggling from poverty. While many had families, there were also many who came alone and left alone, many who struggle with mental illness. I think that our missions serve to bring hope, joy, and the love of Christ to so many who are alone. Often times the only place that they can still find love.

Let us pray for the families of the lost loved ones, the first responders, counselors, those who struggle with mental illness (and their families), and our nation. We have entered a horrible place that I pray will turn us to repentance.

God bless you,


Association of Gospel Rescue Missions l