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The Savvy Director Blog

Welcome to The Savvy Director™ blog, a place to engage on board governance topics as you travel the path to being a savvy director. 

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Give Better Advice

 

There are times when your CEO or Executive Director may approach the board with a specific request for direction on what to do about a high-risk situation.

When time is of the essence, a director’s view may be required immediately for input to the board’s discussion so that a consensus can be reached quickly, and direction given. Or your CEO may be looking for validation of their pending decision. In that case, your job is to act as a sounding board to help ensure nothing has been missed.

But this Savvy Director post is not about that kind of urgent scenario. Instead, we’re taking a deeper dive into how directors provide advice and share their insight under normal conditions.

I’m going to suggest that you’ll give better advice by asking some key questions instead of just baldly stating your opinion at the outset.

 

My Opinion Has More Power

As a director, you may feel like you’re giving away your power by taking the more challenging...

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The People Side of Board Dysfunction

 

If you find your board work a less than enjoyable experience, and board meetings boring and frustrating, maybe you’re part of a dysfunctional board.

When it comes to a board of directors, dysfunction tends to arise from two broad areas – process and people. You’re probably not surprised that people-centered dysfunction is way more frustrating to experience, and way trickier to fix, than the process-centered kind. That’s what happens when you throw human nature into the mix!

Still, there are ways of fixing even people-centered board dysfunction if you have the patience and the will power.

Let’s explore the people side of board dysfunction. Where does it stem from? And how can you address it?

 

The People-Centered Domains

In our last Savvy Director blog, Fixing a Dysfunctional Board, we discussed the four domains of board dysfunction described by Jeff Arnold in his article How to Spot the Top Indicators of Board of Directors’...

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Fixing a Dysfunctional Board

 

Your board work should be an enjoyable experience, especially if you like dealing with interesting, complex issues where the best way forward is often difficult to discern. At their best, your board meetings should be intellectually stimulating, engaging, and rewarding – a place where you have the opportunity to exchange views with people you respect and dig down into all sorts of fascinating data.

Then why are so many board meetings boring? And why are so many board directors frustrated, disengaged, and unhappy?

Maybe it’s the nature of the board. Maybe it’s dysfunctional.

How do you know? And what can you do about it?

 

Why it’s important to fix board dysfunction

A well functioning board can help an organization deliver on its vision and mission. When boards work well, they help organizations focus, strengthen their work, reinforce values, and provide advice, energy, resources, and inspiration.

But when boards don’t work well, they can...

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Trust But Clarify

Many of the problems that boards are faced with involve decision making under uncertainty. Rarely do we have the kind of perfect information that would allow us to predict with complete confidence what the outcome of our decision will be. Most of the time, it’s impossible to know that the facts we’re relying on are 100% certain.

To help decision makers reduce the uncertainty of the information at hand, business schools teach graduate courses on assigning probabilities to decision factors and likely outcomes. (Personally, I didn’t care for that course, but I managed to get through it anyway.)

What I do take forward into my work as a director is the need to try to reduce the ambiguity that comes with less than stellar management reports, presentations, and pitches for big project approvals.

This week our local newspaper carried the story of one board’s failure to properly assess the risk of cost overruns associated with a major IT project. The costs soared...

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The Ego Paradox

“The paradox of board leadership is that, while you might earn a seat on a board of directors thanks to your abilities, knowledge, or popularity, serving well as a board member means leaving your ego behind.” – Susan Mogensen, Brown Dog Consulting

It’s not a surprise that, as a general rule, board directors have healthy egos. After all, they’re most often selected from among the ranks of successful business people, entrepreneurs, professionals, and academics. Each one brings their own expertise, roles, responsibilities, goals, and agendas. They take pride in their own independence and objectivity.

Yet each one must ultimately work as part of a wider team to make decisions in the best interests of the organization.

So how does the typical board director reconcile their individual need for ego satisfaction with their role as a relatively anonymous member of a group? Do they have to park their ego at the door, or is there a legitimate place for ego? The...

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Helping Others Find Their Voice

Does it sometimes feel as though you hear from the same few directors at every board meeting? What about all the others? Why do they stay silent? And more importantly, what can be done about it?

These days, many boards are consciously pursuing more diversity around the board table. The benefits include exposure to a variety of viewpoints, a range of experiences to draw on, and greater insight into stakeholders’ concerns and perspectives. But board diversity won’t deliver on its promise unless there is open discussion, where every board member’s voice is heard.

And diversity is only one of the many reasons that it’s important for all directors speak up. The knowledge, experience, and skill set that they bring to the table needs to be brought out so the board can benefit from their input.

Our last Savvy Director blog, ‘Your Voice Matters in the Boardroom,’ was addressed to those who are struggling to have their voice heard. This time let’s...

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Your Voice Matters in the Boardroom

Sometimes I hear from board directors who are struggling to find their voice in the boardroom. They don’t feel comfortable speaking up, or they can’t seem to make themselves heard.

It can be a particular challenge for newcomers to the board, or for those who feel outnumbered by virtue of their gender, age, race, etc.

If you don’t feel comfortable speaking up in the boardroom, you’ll end up feeling less engaged – maybe frustrated and resentful. Not only is that hard on you, but that kind of situation results in a high level of turnover at the board.

Even more importantly, when you don’t speak up, your board doesn’t get the benefit of hearing from you. What’s the point of recruiting qualified board members, if the board is never able to draw on the expertise of all those highly capable people?

If this describes you, what can you do to find your voice?

And if you’re not in that situation yourself, stay tuned for our next Savvy...

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Seeing Ourselves Clearly

Most of us like to think we’re self-aware – that we see ourselves clearly. Apparently, most of us are wrong. Research shows that only 10 to 15 percent of us fit the criteria for self-awareness.

Why does it matter? For board directors, self-awareness is an important attribute because when we see ourselves clearly, we can be more effective in the role.

For the Institute of Corporate Directors (ICD), self-awareness ranks along with effective judgment and integrity as one of the ‘personal style’ competencies in their list of Key Competencies for Director Effectiveness.

And for readers trying to practice The Six Key Habits of the Savvy Director, self-awareness is an important skill for influencing others.

 

About Self-Awareness

Tasha Eurich is an organizational psychologist, researcher, and author who has written extensively about self-awareness. She provides a simple definition in her TED talk, ‘Increase your self-awareness with one simple...

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A Critical Thinking Mindset

Critical thinking is a key skill for board directors. But does that mean a director is expected to be constantly negative, cynical, and hyper-critical?

Not at all.

Critical thinking isn’t about criticizing. It’s about how you approach problems, issues, and arguments. It’s about asking questions like ‘Why?’ or ‘How?’ or ‘What happens if?’ It’s about objectivity, having an open mind, and relying on evidence to understand what’s really going on.

And when your understanding is deeper, your contribution to the board’s decision-making can be that much more valuable.

That’s why, as a savvy director, it’s important to bring a critical thinking mindset to your board work. 

“Critical thinking is skeptical without being cynical. It is open-minded without being wishy-washy. It is analytical without being nitpicky.” – Peter Facione, Researcher and consultant

 

Critical Thinking in...

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Boardroom Influence - Part 2

What should you do when trust has been damaged between you and other board members? Is there a way to recover? Are there differences in how men and women cultivate influence? What adjustments are needed if the board meeting is virtual? And what ethical considerations crop up when it comes to influence between meetings?

We left some of these questions unanswered in last week’s edition of The Savvy Director, ‘Cultivating Your Influence in the Boardroom.’ No worries - we’ll get caught up now with more wisdom gleaned from my interview with business presentation master expert, Lauren Sergy, owner of Up Front Communication.

As we discussed last week, having influence in the boardroom gives you the ability to change hearts, minds, and behavior. We learned that using influence effectively is about leveraging trust – whether you built that trust over your time on the board, or you protected the trust that your reputation had already earned for you even before...

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