A couple of days ago, DirectorPrep co-founder Alice Sayant shared with me that her car wouldn’t start. The battery had just enough juice for auxiliary power, but not enough to turn over the engine.
Now, in our part of the world (the Canadian Prairies), a dead car battery is a fairly common occurrence in the middle of a cold winter. But it hasn’t even been that cold (at least, not yet.) And not only is her car parked in the garage, but the block heater (click here if you’ve never heard of a block heater!) was plugged in, keeping the engine nice and warm.
But in the midst of a Code Red lockdown – with stores and restaurants shuttered, arts and recreation venues closed, and visits to family and friends banned – her vehicle, like many others, is sitting unused. Even her board work, which in “normal” times requires driving to attend in-person meetings, now takes place sitting at her desk in front of a computer screen.
So, what did she do about her dead battery? She called roadside assistance for help and – voila! – a friendly tow truck driver arrived armed with jumper cables and helpful advice. After he boosted her car battery, she headed out into the bright winter afternoon for a nice long drive and some quality time with a good podcast.
This everyday event got us both thinking … maybe it’s not just car batteries whose energy is depleted these days. Maybe board directors, and the boards they serve, could benefit from a metaphorical block heater and a pair of booster cables as they head into the longest, coldest part of the winter.
So, I asked Alice to jot down a few thoughts on the subject for today’s blog.
At this point in the global pandemic, it’s fair to say that we are all experiencing COVID fatigue to some degree. It’s a weight on our spirits and a drag on our personal energy. While the prospect of a vaccine provides some light at the end of the tunnel, it surely is a long tunnel. The tow truck is still way off in the distance, and there are many challenges to get through before then. Still, let’s keep in mind, that even if, right now, hope seems as distant and elusive as a warm spring day, spring will eventually arrive.
“O Wind, if Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” – Percy Bysshe Shelley
Savvy directors with a healthy level of self-awareness realize that the stress and anxiety of this strange time – stress and anxiety that arise from their personal lives as well as their board work – can have an adverse effect on their effectiveness as a director. We’ve written about this topic in an earlier Savvy Director blog, Self-Care for the Stressed-Out Director. Maybe it’s time for a re-read.
At this time of year many of us think about committing to a few New Year’s Resolutions. A recent article by psychologist Katherine Arbuthnott argues that our resolutions for 2021 should be much more short-term than usual. Instead of focusing on long-term goals, we could try setting ourselves a goal of “arriving at the pandemic’s end with some semblance of good physical and mental health.”
So, as we step out gingerly into the new year, maybe we can all resolve to focus on self-care – whatever that phrase conveys to each of us as individuals. Whether your version of self-care is exercise, meditation, a healthy diet, convening with nature, listening to music, or just taking a long drive with a good podcast, think of taking care of yourself as a boost for your personal battery!
And if you insist on setting a few longer-term goals, Katherine Arbuthnott recommends basing them on what you’ve learned during the pandemic. Consider these three questions:
For many boards, the global pandemic changed everything almost overnight. In the face of massive uncertainties, unprecedented challenges, and an ever-evolving set of guidelines and rules, most boards rose to the challenge. Whether they excelled or just muddled through, they and their organizations have (with some sobering exceptions) managed to survive – so far.
Some directors even found they had to “lean in” during this extraordinary time, and ended up energized by the heightened degree of board engagement that emerged.
And yet, for many of us, COVID fatigue might be setting in on the boards we serve right about now. It’s certainly understandable that the strain of responding to the continuing crisis is having an effect. But I think there’s also another factor to consider – a factor that boards can act on.
I’m talking about virtual meetings and the effect they have on board dynamics and interpersonal relationships. For more on this topic, read our earlier blog, Board Dynamics in a Virtual World.
Let’s face it, people are social animals. They feed off the energy of those around them. And a board of directors is just a specific kind of social group. Virtual meetings have, in some way, impaired the ability of the board to operate as a cohesive group, and that can contribute to fatigue and disengagement.
Still, it looks like virtual board meetings will be a necessity for some time to come. And even in the longer term, many boards will want to take advantage of their obvious advantages, like reduced travel and improved attendance. A recent Harvard Business Review article, ‘The Upside of Virtual Board Meetings’, focuses on those advantages.
“… shifting to virtual has allowed boards to improve governance and collaboration through shorter agendas, crisper presentations, more inclusive and bolder conversations, and broader exposure to key executives and outside experts.”
Fortunately, the article also offers some valuable tips for practices that should help to offset the impact to board dynamics while optimizing the potential benefits. Any or all of these are worth your consideration if your board’s energy could use a boost.
If your board’s energy could use a boost, why not resolve to suggest one of these activities at your next virtual board meeting? Or better yet, just send a link to this blog to your board chair or governance committee chair.
Leave a comment below to get in on the conversation.
Scott Baldwin is a certified corporate director (ICD.D) and co-founder of DirectorPrep.com – an online hub with hundreds of guideline questions and resources to help prepare for your next board meeting.
Share Your Insight: What techniques do you suggest to boost your board’s energy?