Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Gen. McChrystal: “Go White-water Rafting With Your Board”

Effectiveness in the boardroom was addressed in The Wall Street Journal’s annual meeting of the CEO Council (100 CEOs of large companies). The insights were summarized in the paper’s December 9, 2014 special section, “CEO Council.”

In a sidebar Q&A with the WSJ and Retired General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, we learn this:

WSJ: “If you had the president and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a room, what would you advise them from a leadership standpoint on what to do now in Afghanistan?”

GEN. McCHRYSTAL: “I’d tell them to go get three cases of beer and go white-water rafting. It sounds like a joke, but when you get in the National Security Council room for the first time you think, ‘Boy, I made it. I’m in this room. This is kind of amazing.’

“And you look around and you’re not really a team. You’re polite to each other, and you talk. But think about it. We’re fighting a war. You spend months preparing a football or a baseball team for the season, but we take the most senior leaders, we put them in a room, we expect them to be a cohesive team to make tough decisions.

“And so, I would do things that started to build relationships so that you have something to fall back on when you disagree on the issues.

“I see the same thing in boardrooms for corporations. If they come in periodically, they don’t really know each other, they’re not cohesive; you’re not apt to get a very effective outcome. And I think that’s huge. 

“The strategic part is not that hard. Figuring out what to do, you can do that on a Saturday morning.”

Well said! Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld had similar advice in his Harvard Business Review article, “What Makes Great Boards Great.” (Read my review here.)

Or…take a page from the New York Times bestseller, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. George Yeoman Pocock, the master craftsman and leading designer and builder of racing shells in the 20th Century, advised a young man from the University of Washington rowing team:

“If you don’t like some fellow in the boat, Joe, you have to learn to like him. It has to matter to you whether he wins the race, not just whether you do.”

Depending on your organization’s doctrine and lifestyle statements, you could skip the General’s beverage recommendations, but the white-water rafting idea has merit. And for Christ-centered boards, I would build in a spiritual discernment component and ways to leverage the spiritual gifts of your board members. That will dramatically enhance relationships and boardroom dynamics.

Do you want Kingdom outcomes? Build cohesiveness. 

QUESTIONS: Are the relationships between your board members strong enough so when you disagree on the issues…you can do it in a Christ-honoring way? If not, is it time to get in the boat (or raft) together?

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