Preventing Day-to-Day Disasters In the Boardroom and Executive Suite

Preventing Day-to-Day Disasters In the Boardroom and Executive Suite

Disasters are more preventable when the right questions are asked by the right people at the right time. Most of us have heard stories about boards dismissed due to mismanagement and CEOs being asked to leave because of mistakes that were made that should have been better managed.

Yet, overplayed diplomacy, social loafing, silent disagreement, and groupthink impedes curiosity, rigorous dialogue, and futuristic and strategic thinking in any room, including the boardroom and executive suite.

CEOs might cringe when I suggest that board members ask more questions, articulate powerful statements, and be inquisitive. A high-performing board member knows when and how to ask the right questions at the right time. Most often, the right questions are strategic in nature, clarifying, or sense making. For example, “If we continue with double-digit loan growth year after year, what does this mean to our risk position in three years?” That question produces a different quality of conversation in the boardroom than this question: “Should we contribute $500 or $750 to the Urban League?” Or, “What services will our members need in the next three years that we currently do not offer, and how will we be positioned to make those offers?” versus “Why is this budget item over by $3,000?”

Here are recommended questions to ask regularly in the boardroom and executive suite. The more frequently we ask these questions, rather than once a year for a one-day strategic planning session, the greater the success will be for the membership.

  • How certain are we of our conviction about the organizational values and vision?
  • What gives us resilience and courage in the face of uncertainty and adversity?
  • What talent do we need to ensure our membership thrives in the future?
  • What are we doing well that aligns with our competitive advantage?
  • What do we need to improve our abilities to move the organization forward?
  • How do we keep ourselves motivated and encouraged?
  • What questions should we ask to uncover our blind spots?
  • How prepared are we to handle unanticipated complex problems that confront our organization?
  • What are our beliefs about how the board should govern?
  • What are our beliefs about how the CEO should lead?
  • Where do we think the organization should be headed over the next ten years?

Mood Matters

A great conversation happens with the right questions, exchange of ideas, and productive moods. Check your intention and mood before diving deep into a tough question. Moods that are expansive, vulnerable, and curious make it easier to ask the right questions at the right time and will produce rich conversations and outstanding results.

Deedee Myers, Ph.D.
DDJ Myers

Bullying or Be Humble and Kind

Bullying or Be Humble and Kind

Last Tuesday I was driving to the airport to have lunch with two of my sons when this Tim McGraw song called Humble and Kind came on the radio. Normally I play music in the background, but I was compelled to listen to McGraw’s lyrics, and they were timely.

Early that same morning I had an executive coaching call, and the client was in tears. She said her manager and peers were bullying her about her perspective on diversity. We worked through the challenge, and she left the call recentered with a declaration on how to move forward with dignity in interactions with her manager and coworkers.

After I completed the call, my heart was troubled because there is bullying in my children’s’ schools, the workplace, in the news, and even on airplanes. It is important to me to guide and support children so they are kind; likewise it is equally important to me to help leaders create engaged, supportive, and equitable work cultures. In my deeply reflective space, I had questions: Where do we unintentionally bully? When are we so resolute in our perspective that we come across as a bully in the boardroom, team meeting, or performance review? Do we come across as a bully when we don’t get our way at work? How are we creating dignity for ourselves and others?

There is a fine line between being a bully and being kind. McGraw says:

“Hold the door say please say thank you

Don’t steal, don’t cheat, and don’t lie

I know you got mountains to climb but

Always stay humble and kind

When the dreams you’re dreamin’ come to you

When the work you put in is realized

Let yourself feel the pride but

Always stay humble and kind…

Bitterness keeps you from flying

Always stay humble and kind”

The Workplace Bullying Institute reports that 72% of workplace bullies are bosses. Bullying in the workplace creates a hostile work environment, which is not helpful for a sustainable organization. I borrowed this list of workplace examples of bullying from The Balance.*

● Denying an employee access to resources, assignments, projects, or opportunities

● Little or no feedback on performance

● Withholding information essential to performing one’s job

● Failing to invite someone to an essential meeting

● Threatening job loss

● Excessive monitoring or micromanagement

● Assigning tasks that cannot be completed by deadline and setting unrealistic and impossible goals

● Interference or sabotage

● Treating a worker differently than peers and coworkers are treated

● Excessive, impossible, conflicting work expectations or demands

● Inequitable and harsh treatment

● Invalid or baseless criticism, faultfinding, and unwarranted blame

● Accusatory or threatening statements

● Humiliation, public reprimands, or obscene language


I hope this blog helps each of us increase our sensitivity to workplace bullying, support corrective action, and be humble and kind.


Deedee Myers

DDJ Myers


Game Changer Competencies Make Progressive Boards

Game Changer Competencies Make Progressive Boards

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.

Nine Questions to Help You Build a Better Board Succession Plan

Nine Questions to Help You Build a Better Board Succession Plan

Mike Sessions, Ph.D.                                                                                                                                                         1/14/2013

Decisions leaders make about people are critical to organizational success because people impact everything in an organization. The right people fix a decision that is going badly, and the wrong people can mess up even the most brilliant decision.
I was talking with a credit union senior vice president recently about how decisions about people impact organizations. She said her CU’s board did not have a succession strategy, a strategy to bring focus to its own talent management needs. Failure to have a succession plan in place led to a crisis and turmoil when two board members passed away in a six-month period. Not only was there no succession plan or strategy in place, there had been no crisis planning to assist in the process, no board position description to aid in defining expectations for recruiting new board members, and no “black book” of potential board members.

In my experience, this situation is not unique.

CU industry data also suggest that more could be done for board renewal efforts.
According to a Credit Union National Association study released this January, the typical credit union board member is a 61-year-old-white male. He has served on the board well over a decade and will more than likely serve for many more years.

In addition, a 2010 Clarkson Centre for Board Effectiveness study sponsored by the Filene Research Institute and CUES found that the majority of credit union boards do not have a process in place to address their recruitment challenges. For example, 70 percent did not have director election processes in place and only 25 percent had an evergreen list of potential board candidates.

Further, a 2005 Filene Research Institute study (“Board Recruitment and Selection Practices at Credit Union Boards,” not available online) of credit union boards found that 38 percent of boards did not have position descriptions and many more reported their position descriptions as being weak. Forty-three percent had not developed skill or competency profiles or had not used what profiles they had to both recruit and vet candidates. Forty-two percent said they did not have a list of potential candidates or a method for recruiting candidates.

Succession is a process composed of various processes for identifying and developing talent with the goal of ensuring an organization has the right people in the right positions at the right time. With this as a goal, succession can be thought of as the entire system of aligning organizational needs with human talent capabilities. Thus, succession begins with recruitment, identifies organizational and individual needs, directs development, and actualizes potential.

Board succession revolves around a few key elements. One is to decide the capabilities, knowledge and skills–often referred to as competencies–required to fulfill the organization’s mission. Another element groups the competencies to create roles or titles so tasks can be accomplished efficiently and managed prudently. These roles are compiled into position descriptions.

Robust position descriptions serve as one of the most important resources for succession. Position descriptions set the tone, establish expectations, and provide guidance for further development. How do people know what is expected in their current role or what competencies should be developed if they wish to excel in their roles unless there are agreed-upon and documented expectations?

When I say robust position description, I mean the position description should include more than duties. Well-crafted position descriptions include such things as the organization’s mission, values, leadership competencies, duties, and the product to be produced. While this makes the description longer than what is typically developed, it creates a description that helps a person to understand what is expected. Board position descriptions should support the recruiting process. They will establish expectations of performance. They can be used to set the board development agenda for the year. And, they can be used to create individual development plans.

Assuming the board is fully staffed, boards continue the process of succession planning by considering when positions might open and how to fill those positions once they open. Part of the succession consideration should be demographics of the board, to ensure the board adequately represents members’ interests. Board diversity is a strategic, if not moral, imperative.

Boards are the highest form of leadership and directors should be proactive, out in front, and leading by preparing a plan for future needs, as opposed to reacting when needs arise. Boards are responsible for their own work: to manage their agenda, to find their replacements, to develop themselves, to design their jobs, to discipline themselves, and to measure their performance. There is no human resources department serving the board’s recruiting or succession needs. The board is the search committee for its own replacements. As such, each member of the board should be intimately aware of the qualities and duties required and be constantly searching for board candidates.

While there is no HR department serving the board, the nominating or the development committee or the governance committee can play a role in succession. The committee charter may include responsibility for ensuring board position descriptions are current, collecting and assembling names of potential candidates, and developing skills at recruiting and vetting individuals. It may propose governing policy on orienting new candidates or providing an associate role on the board–people who gain experience by attending board meetings, but do not vote.

In summary, succession at a board level includes recruiting, vetting, nominating, and orienting. It also includes the discipline required to establish written expectations memorialized on a position description. It includes regularly scheduled discussion about succession, board needs, and even a crisis plan for unexpected departures. Succession also includes development of each board member with the goal of exceptional excellence in governance.

Consider putting succession on the agenda and include the following nine questions designed to spur examination of current processes and aid in developing a more robust succession and development plan.

  1. Does the board have a succession plan?
  2. In what ways does the board locate and recruit effective board members?
  3. Does the board know its succession needs and when those needs are to be filled, or is the board reactionary?
  4. How does the board find members?
  5. How does the board know when it has found a good member?
  6. What should/must a new board member know prior to voting?
  7. How do new board members know what is expected of them?
  8. How will a person obtain or meet the orientation requirements?
  9. How will the person know when he/she has met the orientation/development requirements?

Mike Sessions, Ph.D., is senior vice president of CUES Supplier member DDJ Myers , Phoenix. He accepted the National Center for Employee Ownership’s Innovation Award for an employee development and succession program he spearheaded for a large national employee-owned company. 

Apply it to your Board Room:

  1. How would your board answer the nine questions?
  2. What is your board doing well in terms of renewing itself?
  3. What is troubling about your board’s renewal processes?

For more on finding, recruiting and developing board members, check out The Board Building Cycle, which includes a tool for assessing candidates.

Call Now Button