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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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What Directors Get Wrong

Last week Ralph Ward interviewed me about how new directors should get ready for board meetings. Ralph is a writer, speaker, and publisher of the online email newsletter Boardroom INSIDER, a source for practical, first-hand advice on better boards and directors.

Since the topic was how to prepare for board meetings, I was more than ready to participate! I never turn down an opportunity to talk about our PREP Framework, a repeatable, reliable process for preparing for board meetings. (Click here to read more about the PREP Framework.)

Just as the interview was drawing to an end, Ralph asked me, “In your experience, what do new directors get wrong?”

His question got me thinking: What do directors in general – not just new directors – get wrong? (And then, of course, what can they do about it?)

Which leads to the topic of today’s blog post – my personal list of the top ten things directors get wrong. (Thanks for the inspiration, Ralph!)

And just to...

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What Must Go Right?

As I worked my way through a lengthy quarterly report recently – complete with tables, charts, graphs, and color-coded dashboard indicators – it occurred to me that there was very little there that would help me to anticipate what might come next.

The report provided lots of detail about what had been accomplished over the past quarter, the past year, and the past several years. From reading the report, I knew exactly where we’ve been been and where we are right now. Unfortunately, it gave me no idea where we’re headed and whether or not we’re likely to reach our destination.

It felt like driving forward while looking in the rearview mirror. It’s true that you should know what’s behind you, but you had better also anticipate what’s ahead of you!

Which brings us to leading and lagging indicators.

But first, how do Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) fit into the work of the board?


The Board’s Three Main Functions


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Director Conduct - A Higher Standard

Lately there has been a bit of a furor in our local press about a government-appointed board chair who travelled out-of-country, contrary to public health guidelines. There have been dozens of letters to the editor, editorials and opinion columns on the topic, as well as the usual social media storm. All of this ended up with the government changing its position, stating that all appointees must refrain from travelling for leisure purposes or risk losing their positions.

Don’t worry. I don’t intend to weigh in on that controversy. It’s become quite political, and that doesn’t really fit with the role of The Savvy Director blog. But the situation gives rise to an interesting governance question.


The Governance Question

What caught my attention about this situation - from a board governance point of view - were opinions expressed by two government-appointed board directors.

One opinion was based on the argument that the offending behavior –...

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Take Your Board to the LAKE

The care and feeding of high performing board cultures has taken a hit these past months. This has been observed many times by any number of board directors in my network. I imagine you’ve heard the same comments.

Still, we should feel grateful for our near universal access to affordable virtual meeting software that makes it possible for us to meet in real time with actual faces in front of us and voices in our ears. Can you imagine the alternative experience if all those virtual meetings of the past year had been conducted by teleconference?

Even with video conferencing software, we’re learning that directors really miss the extra 'je ne sais quoi' that helps create a cohesive board team resulting from the extra touch points that happen at in-person meetings. Think about the brief social conversations that take place in the food line, during breaks, in the restroom, before and after the meeting, and maybe over a beverage afterward.

We all know that’s tough...

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Getting the Most Out of Committees

The Savvy Director blog usually focuses on the director role as it relates to the board as a whole. But in the past few weeks, I’ve found myself spending far more time on my role as a committee member. And that’s not unusual.

With committee work on my mind, it seems like a good time to write about board committees.

I like to include quotations in these blog posts, so I did a quick Google search on ‘Quotes about Committees’. It pains me to say it, but apparently nobody has ever had anything good to say about committees. Here's a sample of what I found:

“If you want to kill any idea in the world, get a committee working on it.”

“A committee is a group of the unprepared, appointed by the unwilling to do the unnecessary.”

“A committee is a group that keeps minutes and loses hours.”

And so on. You get the picture.

If committees are so universally deplored, why would you want to be on one?

First of all, committee work is an...

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Larry in the Boardroom

Image from Breakfast with Larry

Have you ever wondered what the late talk show host Larry King would have been like as a board director?

Let’s say the board was questioning the CEO, and that Larry had actually prepped for the board meeting. What kind of questions would he have asked?

Given that one of Larry’s favorite questions for authors was “Why the book?”, I imagine that his fellow directors might have heard him ask the CEO questions like:

  • “What happened that quarter?”
  • “How did we get those fantastic results?”
  • “Why the delay in reporting?”
  • “What does our customer think?”
  • “How do we know what we don’t know?”
  • “When can we expect an update?”
  • “Where do we go from here?”
  • “What’s next?”

Do you see a pattern?

Short, concise, powerful questions designed to get the respondent to think about their answer. Larry told people that he was the master of the...

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Holistic Board PREP

We say it all the time – ‘Preparation is the key to success in the boardroom.’ That’s why we call our company DirectorPrep. That’s why our tagline is ‘Ready for your board meeting?’

And that’s why we developed the PREP Framework that provides individual directors with a consistent, repeatable process to prepare for board meetings. We want to support directors to be ready for their board meeting every time. (Visit the PREP for Success page on our website to download the PREP Framework.)

Being ready brings with it a state of energy and anticipation. When we are really well-prepared for an upcoming meeting, we can feel confident and ready to collaborate, contribute and influence board decisions.

“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.” – Arthur Ashe, American tennis champion


Get in the Habit of Preparing

As directors, our commitment to prepare...

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The Power of Catalytic Questions

If you’ve been reading The Savvy Director blog for a while, then you know that, at DirectorPrep, we are obsessed with questions.

One reason for that is because asking questions helps us to fulfill our fiduciary duty as board directors. Through our questions, we inform ourselves about the subject matter at hand and satisfy ourselves about what is in the organization’s best interests.

Of equal importance, the right questions – asked in the right way at the right time – are a great tool to help drive our organizations forward.

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on it, I would use the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask.” – Albert Einstein

But let’s face it, not all questions are created equal. Today, I want to focus on a particularly powerful type of question – known as the catalytic question – and how savvy directors can use this technique in the boardroom.

First, what’s the...

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Trust and The Savvy Director

Recently, I had the opportunity to hear author Brian Hayward speak about his new book, The Great Chair: A Window on Effective Board Leadership. I was particularly struck by Brian’s comments on the topic of trust in the boardroom, and how it links to the ability to influence others.

Brian’s book is all about board chairs, and why they are more important than ever for effective governance, so his writing reflects the importance of trust in the board chair’s relationship to the CEO on the one hand, and to other board directors on the other hand. These are the two “dimensions of trust” that the board chair must deliberately cultivate to be effective.

“So, bottom line, chairs rely on personal influence. And there is only one source of personal influence. That is trust. Take trust away from any relationship and you knock the legs out from under ability to influence.” – Brian Hayward, The Great Chair

While only a few directors can occupy...

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Do You (And Your Board) Need a Boost?

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...

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