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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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CEO Succession Planning - It's All About People

Last week’s blog about Interim CEOs seemed to strike a nerve. One reader even told us “You have no idea how timely this is. I am right in the middle of this exact discussion.”

Keeping with the topic of CEO succession, I asked Alice Sayant, co-founder of™, to share her views about the board’s approach to succession planning.

Alice’s Take on Succession Planning

So, Scott gets to write about the controversial topic of interim CEOs, and here I am writing about the unsexy, decidedly noncontroversial topic of succession planning. How is that fair?

Why is succession planning noncontroversial? Because everybody agrees it’s a good idea – more than a good idea, it’s a key board responsibility and vital to the organization’s success. According to one source, 86% of leaders believe succession planning is an urgent or important priority. In researching the topic, I found no sources whatsoever that claimed succession...

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Emergency Succession - The Interim CEO

Key person risk - by definition, it’s the risk carried by an organization that depends to a great extent on one individual for its success. From the board’s perspective, the organization’s primary dependence is on the CEO, the person through whom all good things happen! From the CEO’s perspective, the key person in the organization might be someone else - the lead revenue generator, the head of creative content, the inventor, the chief IT architect, or the morning show host.

What happens when, all of a sudden, the board’s key person departs? The CEO, the ship’s operational rudder, is gone. “What does our CEO succession policy say? We don’t have one? Oh, okay … I didn’t know that. So where do we go from here? We’d better call a meeting.”

I don’t mean to make light of a serious situation. Especially today during a pandemic, when the frequency of sudden departures of CEOs, for health or performance reasons,...

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Listening Skills for Influence in the Boardroom

Countless times, I’ve sat impatiently at the board table waiting for another director to stop talking so I could have my turn. Needless to say, I was not really listening to what they were saying. My mind was preoccupied with my own upcoming pearls of wisdom. I know I’m not alone in this.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” – Steven Covey

But if everyone is mentally practicing their own response, and no one is really listening, why are any of us speaking at all?

Real communication goes in both directions

I’m sure we would all agree that good communication skills are a requirement for savvy directors. So what does that imply?

When we talk about communication skills for the boardroom, we often mean speaking or presenting. We think of communication as a way of sharing our ideas, knowledge and opinions with others. We communicate to influence others, advise them, or challenge them.


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Diversity and Inclusion in the Boardroom

It feels like now is the right time to write about board diversity and inclusion. As always in these Savvy Director™ blog posts, we’ll eventually guide the conversation to how an individual board director might approach this topic in the boardroom.

This week, I asked Alice Sayant, co-founder of™, to share her views on the topic.


Alice’s thoughts on board diversity and inclusion

First of all, let me say that I believe board diversity and inclusion are important subjects for our consideration because, if we believe in social justice, it’s just the right thing to do. If the word justice implies fairness, then social justice is the concept of fairness as it manifests in society – including equal opportunity for participation in societal and economic institutions like corporate boards.

The four essential goals of social justice – human rights, access, participation, and equity – are important personal values for me,...

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Self-Care for the Stressed-Out Director

I received some interesting comments in response to the last Savvy Director™ blog on the topic of resilient leadership. This one below really got me thinking about a director’s need for self-care in the face of stress and worry about the organizations they oversee.

“I hope leaders, even if resilient, do not view themselves as invincible. They and their boards have to ask themselves ... how can I stay whole? How can I help others do the same? If we do not tend our ‘own gardens’ we may find ourselves withered, dry, or simply dead. Worst of all - dead but still in the job.”

Self-care is any activity that we do to take care of our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Good self-care is key to improved mood, reduced anxiety, and positive relationships. Although I’m no expert on the subject, I do appreciate and try to practice positive behaviors such as eating well, getting my beauty sleep, exercising and meditating.

But what does...

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Got my hair cut. Now what?

“I can get my hair cut today!”

Hey, it's a very real thing for people who have hair available to cut. Getting a haircut is one of the early reliefs coming out of restrictions being lifted. A return to normal, something customers can control.

Your hair stylist or barber is glad to see you, and glad to be seen by you. Your stylist’s business is fortunate. As long as you have hair, I’m pretty sure you will return to your previous habit of regular haircuts.

That got me to thinking about customer behavior as our economy re-opens. The impetus for organizations to ‘change back better’ will fade if we are able to just return to the way things used to be. Is that a good thing?

To Change or Not to Change

As a board director, my hunch is that when returning to the old way of doing things is easy, it will stifle the recent spate of innovations and many of the creative ideas that had been placed on the drawing board. I can sense that this is already...

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Grateful to Serve

I recently woke up at 3:00 AM with my mind racing about the upcoming board meeting scheduled for later that day via video conference.

As I lay in bed, I heard Fergus, our 15-year-old Scottish terrier, snoring away on the floor beside our bed. It would not be long before his 5:30 AM wake-up bark telling me he wanted to go outside. I needed to get back to sleep.

That day’s upcoming board meeting was the culprit that was keeping me awake. As a volunteer on a government agency board, I was aware that lots was going on. The government had announced impending funding cuts across all agencies to help pay for COVID-19 expenses. There was no clear direction to help us determine what to preserve and what to prune. The management team and the staff were understandably wary about layoffs, and we had fearful clients not knowing whether there would be funding available to continue their work.

With a board comprised of current and new government appointees, board leadership was unsure what...

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Bridging the (Board) Divide

Many boards have been functioning well these past weeks, but others have become divided over the important issues that are now confronting them.

More than a few Savvy Director readers have described situations where sharp divisions have developed around the board table while dealing with significant decisions arising from the pandemic. These are not just cases where one or two directors disagree with the majority. They are situations where the board is split 60/40 or 50/50 on sensitive, significant and urgent issues.

There are so many issues and questions that have arisen. Some examples are:

  • Staff layoffs.
  • Executing funding cuts – should cuts be targeted or across the board?
  • Whether to proceed with previously approved capital projects - could the money be better spent?
  • Charitable donations and community support – yes or no? Doesn’t charity begin at home? And which organizations should be supported?
  • Is our company a fundamentally sound business that simply does...
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Where you stand depends on where you sit

A recent email from one of our Savvy Director™ readers got me thinking about how diversity of experience actually influences the opinions and viewpoints that we bring to board discussions, as well as the decisions that we end up making.

It’s taken for granted these days that diversity at the board table is a good thing and that it contributes to more robust discussions and better decisions. But how does this actually occur? Especially in the light of board discussions with management about the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on business.

I’ve paraphrased our reader’s comments below:

I’m curious about the experience of boards in the current environment where directors coming at the impacts of COVID-19 on the organization vary greatly based on the industry or sector they come from.

For example, there are those who may be from a sector that is experiencing significant layoffs and is not considered to be an essential service. And others who are focused on...

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Channel Your Inner Churchill

For many years on boards, my use of the admonition to never let a good crisis go to waste was often met with understanding, acknowledgement, enthusiasm … and then reluctance.

Change is hard. People are slow to change if they don’t see a burning platform. Boards did not really understand why we did things a certain way because we had always done them that way.

Besides, it worked … until it didn’t.


Reimagining the Future

I only recently discovered that the phrase Never let a good crisis go to waste originated with Winston Churchill. He was a great wartime leader, but his track record in peacetime was less successful.

The same thing could apply to some of today’s boards and CEOs – those without the agility, responsiveness, and vision to re-imagine the future as we plan to emerge, at some point, from these uncertain times.

The other day, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo posed an interesting question during his daily briefing. He asked,


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