Someone once said to me, “never underestimate the power of a group of highly intelligent people to function together in a really stupid way”. The follies of group-think extend to heads of states, leaders in high places and, unfortunately, the function of a board as well.  

A great board fosters leadership. A great board focuses on the “ends” of the enterprise while fully delegating the “means” to the CEO and executive team. You can do a lot to make your board great by the way you structure meetings. Make the following three elements the agenda for each board meeting: 

1. Celebrate Our Wins 

Start the meeting with a section where the board members acknowledge the good things that have happened since we last met. When everyone calls out these wins, popcorn style, it lifts the atmosphere so good stuff can happen and creativity can come forward. The CEO feels that what they’ve done is being seen. Start here, and you will set the tone for genuine openness and engagement! 

This also encourages the members to read the board packet ahead of time in a positive way, looking for our wins more than our problems. When a clear, concise board packet can be taken as read, you are going to have a much more productive meeting. No need for the executives to rehash the same information.

2. CEO Concerns
Boards who imagine their role as to police the company create defensive executives. Celebrating our wins helps the CEO feel safe. Then we can surface the most important concerns facing the company. So often board members feel it is their job to spot the issues, but you’ve got to believe that those in it day-to-day have the better handle on our most important challenges. 

For this “CEO Concerns” agenda item, the CEO shares with the board the 3 or 4 things he or she is worrying about the most- key people concerns, customer churn, competitor issues, culture, tech, cashflow. Typically, board members are impressed with concerns spoken that were not immediately visible from the numbers. These CEO concerns are the issues where the board’s support means most to the CEO before they become more visible as embedded problems. 

I consider it a failure of the board dynamic if you don’t get to the point where pretty much all the issues outside board members might have raised have already been surfaced by the CEO. 

3. Creating the Future

For each meeting, have the CEO bring one or two important, non-urgent topics to the board that will affect the business in the medium-term future. Not something that needs to be decided now–those topics are likely “means” which are better delegated to the executives. There are always strategic crossroads ahead, where an insightful dialogue today really does change the future. For example, what will the market be like in 18 months? When is the optimal time to go international? Or make an acquisition? The wealth of talent and experience in the room can make a much stronger contribution on those kinds of topics, without crossing over to doing the CEO’s job for them. When the CEO taps into the brainpower of the room in this way, it is more fun for everyone!

Good To Great
Our corporate structure is designed to support leaders to deliver excellence. Don’t let your board sink into mediocrity. It doesn’t have to be like that. 

Next week we’ll dive into the composition of a great board, in Part 2 of “Upgrade Your Board”.

David Lesser
Founder & CEO