I’ve asked dozens and dozens of seasoned CEOs and board chairs, “If you could get a do-over, what would you do differently in your early years of board leadership?”
Here’s a collection of their thoughts—and insights from the governance literature:
A CEO told me: “I wouldn’t lie to my board!” (On the expressive side of the four social styles, this leader painted a picture far rosier than reality.)
The co-authors of Boards That Lead caution directors, “Most chief executives are constitutionally optimistic, and since by definition their role is to surmount challenges, the tenor they bring into the boardroom is likely to be relentlessly upbeat. Taking executive overassurance into account will aid directors in detecting nascent troubles ahead, but it is only one piece of a very complicated puzzle.” (Boards That Lead: When to Take Charge, When to Partner, and When to Stay Out of the Way, by Ram Charan, Dennis Carey and Michael Useem)
Another CEO, wishing she could revisit missed opportunities, responded, “I would spend more time with individual board members.”
“When asked what they would do differently, retired CEOs most often say, ‘I would give more time to developing the board,’” writes David L. McKenna in Stewards of a Sacred Trust: CEO Selection, Transition and Development for Boards of Christ-centered Organizations.
And here’s my answer to the re-do question: “I would have been more intentional in mentoring and inspiring board members with niche books. That would have created greater ownership of our vision and mission.”
“Avoid Management-by-Bestseller Syndrome that requires everyone to read this month’s trendy book. Instead, build a management library in your office and recommend specific titles to specific people for specific problems or opportunities.” (See The Book Bucket chapter in my book, Mastering the Management Buckets.)
You can create a life-long learning culture on your board by inspiring at least one board member, per meeting, to give a five to seven-minute book review on a key topic: governance, spiritual discernment, leadership, trends, risk, finance—whatever your need is. Leaders are readers!
Carl Bard said, “Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.” (Wow. That’s the Good News!)
QUESTION: If you could get a do-over, what would you do differently in your early years of board leadership? What will you do in the next 90 days?