Your success as a board director isn’t about how smart you are, it’s about your willingness to do the work. I’m calling it ‘Boardroom Grit’. Is there such a thing?
Think about the wealthy dude who gets a seat at the high profile charity board table because of the size of his family’s foundation and the potential for a sizeable gift someday … how gritty is that when he never opens the meeting materials and confirms that reality with his off-topic comments and rabbit-hole questions?
Today’s Savvy Director blog topic was inspired by the best-selling psychology book, ‘Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance’ by Angela Duckworth.
While Dr. Duckworth shares extensive research demonstrating that talent alone is not enough to ensure achievement, it was her many real-life examples in athletics, the arts, medicine, business, and academics, that I found so compelling.
Talent without intentional practice is a waste.
Talent without effort doesn’t produce skill. Skill without effort doesn’t produce achievement. Both talent and skills are leveraged by effort to generate achievement.
In the middle of reading the book, I, of course, started thinking about boards. I thought about how being wealthy or smart – or both - doesn’t guarantee boardroom success or bestow influence without the effort of preparing for board meetings.
Along with many in society, I’m grateful for the generosity of everyone who makes a donation to the causes of their choice. But let them stay in the role of donor if they’re not prepared to do the work required of a director when it comes to serving on the board. Maybe that sounds harsh, but I guess I’ve just seen boardroom dysfunction too many times.
There are all kinds of ways for a charity to properly engage its donors, large and small. But a seat at the boardroom table because of their philanthropy may not be the best approach.
Philanthropy x Effort, on the other hand, could be amazingly powerful.
I began to wonder whether Dr. Angela Duckworth’s insights on grit could be applied to the goal we share – the goal to become Savvy Directors some day. I think it does and I’ll tell you why. Not to worry, I’ll keep my explanation short.
Dr. Duckworth’s Grit premise goes something like this:Notice something?
“Talent counts, but effort counts twice.” – Dr. Angela Duckworth
Effort contributes more to success than talent does. How does that translate to achievement in the boardroom?
Most everyone has the basic level of talent it takes to participate in a board meeting. If you can show up on time and crack open your laptop or iPad to find the materials, you can at least have the agenda in front of you and sit through the meeting.
But are you passionate about the work of this board? Passion is an element that helps determine the amount of effort you’re ready to put forth.
The concept of boardroom grit suggests that your talent alone will not endow you with the skills to ask the right question at the right time on a regular basis. Your lack of PREP will become obvious soon enough.
Instead, it’s the amount of effort you expend - going the extra mile to really prepare - that results in you being ready to collaborate, contribute, and influence decisions. I’m taking it as a given that you’re smart enough. But your opportunity to let your insight shine through at the board meeting is directly correlated to the amount of effort you choose to apply in your PREP work.
“Without effort, your talent is nothing more than unmet potential. Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have done but didn’t.” — Dr. Angela Duckworth
Let’s say you’ve decided you want to serve on a board, and you know the skills you want to develop so you can have a positive impact in the boardroom. As the months go by, a higher level of desired achievement emerges.
At one time you just wanted to get on a board, then a committee. Now you think you have the skills and are willing to put in the effort to become a really good committee chair. With a few years remaining before you reach your term limits, what skills and habits might you want to develop if you want to become the board chair someday?
That example of boardroom succession planning may or may not work for you (becoming a board chair isn’t for everyone) but it demonstrates the boardroom grit needed to achieve a goal.
“Talent is how quickly your skills improve when you invest effort into them. Achievement is what happens when you take those acquired skills and use them.” – Dr. Angela Duckworth
You might demonstrate your boardroom grit by being ready and willing to perform extra research in an area where you want to dive deeper or catch up, and preparing for the topics on the next meeting agenda.
That might include preparing a solid boardroom argument to have influence and sway on an upcoming topic you believe is important. When the meeting takes place a day or two later, you can leave afterward with a strong sense of achievement, because the work you put into the meeting was worth every effort.
That’s also boardroom grit. As is the whole board staying with complex agenda topics that might take months to resolve.
We all know the opposite situation when, for one reason or another, you didn’t leave yourself enough time to properly prepare for a committee or board meeting. That’s happened to all of us at one time or another. Chances are you, like me, were the quiet one around the board table that day.
The end result? The meeting went well, but you felt it was just okay because your engagement was less than your higher, grittier standard.
Forgive yourself. We know you will be back up to speed next time because of your boardroom grit.
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: If you could serve on any board because of your passion for the company purpose or nonprofit mission, which one would it be?