Every year a few otherwise successful CEO’s lose their jobs in large part for ignoring the care and feeding of their bosses, the board of directors. Perhaps it is the hubris that accompanies success. Maybe it is the fierce independent streak that high control personalities exhibit. Sometimes it is over-reliance on a personal relationship. Or it might simply be the failure to place communication with the board as a high time management priority.
In pre-Sarbanes-Oxley days, boards of directors were made up of cronies of the CEO and, honestly, were not expected to know much about the inner workings of the company. They were for the most part expected to be a rubber stamp for the decisions of the CEO. Many did not even attempt to offer meaningful advice. Consequently it was probably dangerous to act on whatever suggestions they did make.
My, how times have changed. Now that members of the board can be held personally liable for failing to exercise diligence and shareholder lawsuits have become common, both the composition of the board and how members view their responsibilities are dramatically different.
Ten Tips for Effectively Dealing With the Board of Directors (or any other boss)
1. Get to know each member’s personality, strengths, weaknesses, fears and aspirations. Don’t try to change your bosses; adapt.
2. Always communicate MAJOR ideas and plans before taking action. Most bosses hate surprises.
3. Respond in a timely and courteous fashion to requests for information even though it may not be your highest priority at that moment. The people who can terminate your employment should always be a high priority. Just ask Carly Fiorina about that one.
4. Attempt to build a relationship on a personal level, but don’t rely too heavily upon it. It is human nature to go the extra mile for people we like and to look for the bad in people who we feel have dissed us.
5. When you disagree with a recommendation or suggestion, don’t just ignore it or drag your feet. Provide the rationale behind your disagreement. Make sure the discussion ends with both parties stating their understanding of the actions to be taken. When possible, follow-up by e-mail to document the actions. Don’t ever publicly criticize the boss. You will probably end up burning a bridge that may come back to haunt you later on.
6. Get in the habit of regular communication via e-mail, phone calls or personal visits at a frequency level to their liking. Some members EXPECT to be dealt with in person as a sign of their special status. Others prefer more impersonal communication.
7. Be truly open to advice from the board. Presumably all members have achieved some modicum of success somewhere along the way. If you are receptive, there is much that many members can offer.
8. If members of the board begin to roam around the organization taking your staff’s precious time or changing their priorities, you have to step in. You must make it clear that you run the business and that their violating the chain of command will not be tolerated. Do this politely, but firmly, and tell them you will be happy to provide them with whatever information they seek. It is amazing how disruptive it is when board members wander the halls and drop by the offices of your staff.. It puts your people in a real dilemma as to how to respond.
9. For the most part it is your job to present solutions to problems you are encountering when dealing with the board. In a meeting it is not a good idea to just toss out a problem to the board to get their reaction. They will most likely get the impression they hired the wrong person if you do this too often. Don’t lose control of the meeting.
10. Tell the what you need to be successful. It is the job of any boss to provide those who work for them the tools, resources and support to have a fighting chance of accomplishing the mission. Too many leaders are loath to provide their bosses with insight into the things they need to get the job done. There should be an honest dialog between the leader and board about anything related to the leader’s ability to perform at the optimal level.
The board of directors, or for that matter, any boss, should not be seen as the enemy, a nuisance or people you dread being around. If you do view them in such a manner it will only be a matter of time until they begin to act in accordance with your worst fears. The goal should be to develop a relationship based upon trust, competence and mutual respect. It is a wise investment of time, energy and social capital to pay attention to the needs and desires of those who can choose to terminate your employment.
Dr. John W Hanes is president of Effectiveness Dimensions International, a southern california based leadership traqining and management consulting firm. Dr. Hanes has had over 24,000 leaders from over 800 organizations attend his nationally acclaimed three day leadership seminar, Team Top Gun.