Boards across the industry realize that the levels of engagement and competencies of the past will not satisfy the future needs of the organization. The change they are seeking will not be satisfied with just a new assessment, tool, or technique; the change requires a systemic and sustainable process that is sometimes transformative. A new mindset is required regarding how boards frame issues, challenges, and opportunities; engage and stay in dialogue; and build a relationship with the chief executive officer (CEO).
Progressive boards engage in dignified and lively debates on central and critical issues, staying away from the tangential and inconsequential. High-performing boards require input and strategically oriented questions from each board member, whereas recent research suggests that 50-70% of directors prefer just to listen, and only 11% willingly engage in dialogue. The newly evolved board agenda and packet is designed to stimulate higher-level thinking while keeping a watchful eye on important metrics of safety.
The board-CEO relationship is a generative partnership, often called constructive and collaborative. The key word is partnership rather than just one party establishing the vision and strategy and passing it to the other party to inform and/or implement. Both parties co-create the vision and agree on the path to success and conditions of successful stewardship of the membership.
Members of a generative partnership will step forward and backward, step on each other’s toes in a dance of leadership, and learn while moving forward. Two-way feedback between the CEO and the board is constructive, direct with dignity, and focused on the intention of effective leadership. Progressive boards practice epoche, stepping outside of their perspective to deeply listen to others’ points of view and then courageously make and implement the right decision. Tough decisions are made and then mutually supported by all to the external community, membership, and staff.
Progressive boards can self-manage rather than being a time sink for management, checking their e-mail and digital devices in a meeting rather than deeply listening to what is important and how they need to add value. A progressive board easily reflects, to those outside the boardroom, the current and target membership demographic. Members join boards because they have value to offer and their opinions are needed; progressive boards effectively engage each director and the collective group, utilizing the skills and expertise of each board member rather than hearing just one or two dominant voices.
Progressive boards have optimal structures including ideal composition and committee structure. The board understands and acts on board member duties, including board and CEO succession. Each committee has a purpose and outlined conditions of success. A clear distinction exists between decision-making lines between the board and the CEO, and the progressive board self-manages when any member steps over the line into the domain of the CEO’s responsibility.
Progressive boards enhance the nominating committee to include board development, board succession, and rich and robust onboarding. No longer can any board member say, “I am the newest and defer to others.” Progressive boards insist on new members adding value on day one and provide the support mechanisms for an onboard program such as board buddies, post-meeting check-ins with the chair, and learning plans.
Think about the progressiveness of your board. How is it progressive? How should it be more high-performing? What needs to shift in your boardroom to ask higher-level questions that get the heart pumping of everyone in the room? How is complacency of even one board member serving the membership? What will awaken your board to be rigorous, strategic, and keep pace with your high-performing CEO?
Our board development, succession, and recruitment process enlivens the boardroom and ensures that the best available talent is retained, recruited, and onboarded.