Aug 26 2008

"The Board"

I’ve written before on effective board communication, how to run effective board meetings and other "governance" topics related to companies and their boards of directors. Today’s post is a little more ethereal.

I’ve noticed a real difference in how various CEO’s I work with refer to their boards – particularly when talking internally to the rest of their management teams and employees.  On the one hand are the CEO’s that consistently refer to their board of directors as "The Board" (capital "T", capital "B") and often use them as some kind of foil (as in "The Board has said that we really need to do XYZ") – almost separating themselves from whatever decision or direction it is that they wish to convey and treating the board as some kind of amorphous entity like the borg in Star Trek.  On the other had are CEO’s that more often refer to the board by their individual names, including themselves in the list as well. It’s obviously much harder to absolve yourself of responsibility for a decision if you speak in this fashion. It’s also much more difficult to use the board as the foil (since "Seth, John, Jamie and Susan" sounds a lot less threatening than "The Board").

What’s interesting to me as an observer of this behavior is not just my obvious preference for communication style, but for what a predictive marker it is for other behaviors that I also care about.  CEOs that treat the board as individuals rather than a single entity are more likely to seek meaningful advice and counsel from their board members, are universally better at board level communication and have board members that tend to be more involved (in a good way – at least in my opinion) in helping solve day to day business challenges.

Something to think about as you plan for your next company meeting…