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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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Curiosity Makes the Director

I often close my email messages with the words ‘Stay Curious.’

For me, it’s more than just a closing line like ‘Sincerely’ or ‘Yours truly.’ I mean it as a reminder to the reader – and to myself for that matter – to intentionally focus on always bringing a lively state of curiosity to the board table.

I firmly believe that curiosity is one of the attributes that separates a ho-hum board director from a Savvy Director.

And I’m not alone in thinking that.

“The best board members are inherently curious. ... They never settle for highlights or default to conventional methods. They don’t just analyze the information they’re given, but they pick up on the body language and interactions of the executive team. They’re obsessed with discovering the why.” - Brian Stafford, CEO of Diligent. Modern Governance 2.5: What Does it Mean to Be a Curious Board Director?

An emphasis on the value of curiosity is...

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Smile! You're In Camera.

I’m sure you’ve seen it happen. The board decides to hold an in camera session – or as it’s known in the US, an executive session - clearing the boardroom of all staff.

Outside the closed door, staff perceive it as a signal that something ominous is about to happen. They start to speculate about what’s going on. Is the CEO in trouble? Has something scandalous occurred? Is the company threatened?

Inside the boardroom, the questions are less earth-shaking. How should we proceed? Do we need minutes? If so, who will record them? And what will we do with them?

And then what happens?

“Time and again I hear that [in camera sessions] become useless bitch sessions about staff and nothing actionable or productive comes from them. Worse still, the CEO sits outside, assumes that it is a bitch session and wonders what nasty things are being said that he/she is not being given the opportunity to defend or address.” – Joan Garry, author of Joan...

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The Value You Bring

The value you bring to the boardroom is what matters.

You’re in the boardroom for a reason. It's not enough to simply show up. Putting your skills and attributes to work will enable you to make a positive impact on your board.

Knowing how and where you can add value helps you be the most effective director you can be. It gives you the confidence to engage actively with your peers around the board table (or on the computer screen).

“The board is a special group of people. People who are professional, people who have multiple identities, people who are busy, and people who do not spend that much time together.” - Stanislav Shekshnia, INSEAD Senior Affiliate Professor on Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise.

The individual value you bring to the boardroom is found at the intersection of your knowledge, influence and leadership.

During my meeting PREP, I find it really helps to focus in a mindful way on how I might add value to the work of the board. Thinking...

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Kindness in the Boardroom

Does kindness have a place in the boardroom?

Lately I’ve read a few interesting articles about the value of being kind vs. being nice. It got me thinking about how this distinction applies to a board of directors.

The Savvy Director understands that being effective requires more than just knowledge of the esoteric rules of board governance. It requires understanding people - how they think, behave and interact with each other. In fact, one of The Six Key Habits of The Savvy Director is ‘Collaborate with People.’ That implies treating others with respect, compassion and empathy.

So is the Savvy Director kind? Or nice? Maybe both? Or maybe neither?

First of all, let’s explore the difference between being nice and being kind.


Kind vs. Nice

In a nutshell, kindness is about helping others, and niceness is about pleasing others. Sometimes you can be kind to someone even though you aren’t being nice. And you can be nice to someone while being unkind.


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Deciphering Management Reports

How can directors possibly know what is going on in the organizations they serve? After all, while management spends all their time immersed in operations and strategy, board members spend a comparatively small amount of time on their board duties and seldom step outside the boardroom.

That makes for a huge information gap.

As a board director, you’re pretty much completely dependent on management reports and presentations to best inform the discussion that’s needed to fulfill your responsibilities.

And yet, in my experience, those management reports are often a source of deep dissatisfaction for board members. Many organizations rate them as weak or poor! What gives?

What should the Savvy Director expect – or demand – from management reports? And what can be done to improve them?


Reports – What are they good for?

The flow of information from management to the board enables directors to fulfill their duties as board members. Whether you call...

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Calling All Ambiverts

There are days when it’s just not obvious what the subject of the next weekly Savvy Director blog should be. So, we happily welcome reader suggestions.

A couple of weeks ago, Jim sent an email with a link to an article from The Globe and Mail, Introverts, time to add some extrovert skills into your repertoire.’ The gist of the article is that, to be effective, introvert leaders sometimes need to act like extroverts.

Jim’s comment was, “Interesting article. You may wish to write about introverts/extroverts at the board level on your blog.”

He was right. This is an interesting topic to explore. Which director is savvier – the introvert or the extrovert?

As it turns out, the ambivert has an advantage over both.


Introverts and Extroverts in the Boardroom

Our personality traits play a huge part in all facets of our lives, and the boardroom is no exception. One of the most important of these traits is that of introversion/extroversion....

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"If we weren't doing it now, would we start?"

If your board is typical, there’s time set aside in the board calendar to discuss strategy – at least I hope there is! Usually, there’s an offsite strategic planning session every few years, maybe an annual board retreat that includes a strategy update, and hopefully there is time allocated on most meeting agendas to check in on progress against the strategic plan.

Over the years I’ve participated in quite a few strategic planning sessions. The board and senior management get together to decide what the organization is going to try to accomplish over the next few years.

It can be an exhilarating process, working through all the possibilities. Before long, we’ll have assembled a long list of things the organization should start doing — new needs to meet, new products and services to offer, new competencies to develop, new projects to execute, and all sorts of ways to grow our business or expand our outreach.

But it’s far less fun to talk...

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The Bad Apple

You know the old saying … ‘One bad apple spoils the bunch.’

According to Merriam-Webster, when we use the phrase ‘bad apple’ to refer to a person, we mean ‘someone who creates problems or causes trouble for others; specifically: a member of a group whose behavior reflects poorly on or negatively affects or influences the remainder of the group.’

Oddly enough, over time, the concept has been used to describe the opposite situation. In recent times, we quite often hear that ‘a few bad apples’ should not be seen as representative of the rest of their group.

When it comes to a board of directors, which is it? Does one troublesome director spoil things for everyone else on the board? Or is it a situation that we just have to learn to live with? The answer is … it depends.


Difficult Board Members

What kind of behavior gets a director labeled as ‘difficult’ by their fellow board members? It ranges from...

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Ethics in Board Decision-Making

A board of directors is often faced with making a decision that has ethical dimensions. This is not a new phenomenon – it’s always been this way.

But in our current environment – one that features intense stakeholder scrutiny of governance practices, heightened expectations around organizational activities, and seemingly limitless opportunities to make a ‘wrong’ decision instead of a ‘right’ one – it’s more important than ever that boards have access to skills and tools that enable them to make visionary, creative and effective ethical decisions.

What is ethics? It’s a field that seeks to answer the practical question What ought we to do? - a question that applies not just to individuals, but to organizations and of course boards. Ethics consists of well-founded standards of right and wrong that prescribe what we ought to do, in terms of rights, obligations, benefits to society, fairness, or virtues.

Decisions with...

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The Purpose-Led Board

For years, strategic planning exercises have started with articulating an organization’s Mission, Vision and Values. But these days, it seems that organizations have to dig even deeper to find their Purpose.

Recently I watched the movie A Dog’s Purpose on Netflix. It’s not a great movie, but I watched it for two reasons. First, I’m a sucker for dog movies. Second, it was filmed in and around Winnipeg, my hometown. It was fun identifying where various scenes were shot. Isn’t that 50’s diner Skinner’s? Isn’t that campus the University of Manitoba? Isn’t that field of golden waving wheat – well, that could be almost anywhere on the Canadian Prairies.

Anyway, the focus of the movie is the life purpose of a particular dog. (Okay, a dog who is repeatedly reincarnated, but let’s not get into that.) If a dog’s life has a purpose, surely so do the organizations that our boards govern.

An organization’s purpose...

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