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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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"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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Six Super Questions for Directors

At DirectorPrep, we’re obsessed with questions. Asking clear, compelling questions is often the best way that we, as directors, can make a significant contribution to discussions and influence board decisions.

We use questions to clarify information, launch and build on meaningful discussions, encourage dialogue, and challenge assumptions. Without questions, how would we explore fresh ideas, analyze problems, and generate solutions?

The concept is simple - better questions kick start better conversations, which lead to more effective board meetings and, ultimately, better decisions.

DirectorPrep co-founder Dave Jaworski likes to say that the best questions give directors super powers. So today, in honor of Dave, I’m calling my six favorite director questions ‘Super Questions.’


1. What business are we in and how do we make money?

One of my Biz School profs used to like to ask this super question about pretty much every case study that we covered. At...

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Soak Time on the Board

“That’s a big decision. I’m going to sleep on it.”

What kinds of decisions require additional time to consider?

  • Maybe someone has made you a job offer - but it feels like it might not be the right move.
  • Or let’s say you are a CEO who needs to decide between two outstanding candidates for the CFO position. Both are great, but for different reasons.
  • Is it time for a new vehicle? Maybe it would be best to lease for the next three years. You’re thinking about going electric but you’re just not sure when there will be enough charging stations to make it worthwhile.
  • Are the kids all grown up with their own families? Maybe its time to downsize. Are you talking about a smaller house or going condo?

In situations like these, where your decision will have major consequences, you’ll probably take some reflection time to consider your options . By contrast, the choice of a restaurant for tonight’s home delivery doesn’t have the same...

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Resolving Inevitable Conflicts

“Conflict is inevitable, combat is optional.” – Max Lucado, US author

As a board director, I find there’s nothing like robust boardroom debate to get me really engaged. After all, that’s what we’re there for, isn’t it? To wrestle with big, important issues; to help guide the organizations we care about around dangers and into a bright future; to make sound decisions in the interests of all our stakeholders.

But what about when the debate is not so healthy, when it degenerates into disruptive conflict? What are the consequences? What’s the impact on the issues we discuss, the guidance we offer, and the decisions we make?

And how can we deal with it?


What Boardroom Conflict Looks Like

It’s often said that ‘the board speaks with one voice,’ meaning that the board publicly expresses a consensus view. Getting to that consensus can be a messy process involving lively discussion, opposing points of view, and robust...

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Giving Back with Good Governance

From time to time, a Savvy Director reader has asked me to write about governance in the non-profit sector.

We can all agree that non-profit organizations (NPOs) play a vital role in our society. They provide services in many different areas including health care, education, religion, social support, industry and professional programs, amateur sports, and fundraising for medical research and public awareness.

These days, NPOs, like all publicly accountable organizations, face numerous challenges in a complex environment with heightened stakeholder expectations. Confronted with these challenges, well-governed organizations have proven to be more effective, and more likely to succeed, than poorly governed ones.

But directors on NPO boards may sometimes feel that those challenges and expectations are just too much. For example, a fellow director recently wrote to me as follows, inspiring the title of today’s blog post.

“When volunteers are recognized, it is for founding...

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The Strategic Board Agenda

If you’re like most directors, the first thing you do when preparing for a board meeting is check out the agenda. You want to get a feel for what to expect from the upcoming meeting.

Sometimes the agenda makes a lot of sense. The focus of the meeting is clear. The list of items for discussion is reasonable. There are some interesting, meaty topics to dig into. You find yourself looking forward to the meeting.

But let’s face it, sometimes the agenda is a dog’s breakfast. Multiple items have been crammed in, in no particular order. You know there’s no way the board will be able to get through all of it in one sitting. And the most important item appears at the end of the packed agenda. You can see what’s coming, and you dread it.

What separates a great agenda from a dog’s breakfast? The answer is planning, focus and collaboration. Good agendas don’t just happen. They require conscious effort. But the result is well worth it, because an...

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You're On Mute!

Virtual Board Meetings Post Pandemic

Without a doubt, “You’re on mute” was the most heard phrase during board meetings this past year. I encourage all directors and management people reading today’s blog to stop and take a moment of self-reflection and congratulation for a job well done.

You did this. You managed to get through an entire year of virtual board and committee meetings where few had previously been held. Remember what it was like a year ago? Everyone was learning on the fly. Board meetings were happening more frequently, and using technology that was new to most of us.

IT departments were swamped with requests for remote work arrangements and having to manage all the resulting cyber security risks suddenly foisted upon the organization. Webcams were sold out everywhere, laptops were in short supply, and Amazon was out of stock. And then what happened?

Somehow, we figured it out.

And from what I hear, virtual board and committee meetings are here...

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