10 Tips For Leading Your Board

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D. Todd Dollinger, Chairman and CEO of The Trendlines Group
todd@trendlines.com

So, you’re just more than an hour into the board meeting, you’re feeling like your presentation has gone well and it’s time to move to the next subject. The questions from the board are pretty good and you’ve got answers that are even better than their questions. But now, just a few minutes into talking about your U.S. market entry strategy, the tone of the questions seems to change from curiosity to challenge. How did this happen?

Let’s be clear – it’s your fault. They’re good, smart people and they respect you. If they didn’t respect you, they’d replace you or they’d leave the board. Your failure today: you didn’t manage your board relationships; you didn’t lead them. Being a CEO is tough. Leading your board is part of that job. Are you doing it well? Let’s consider some of the practical issues of board leadership. Here’s a top 10 list for you to think about.

  1. Everyone hates surprises – talk to board members before the board meeting; clue them in on the big issues; seek comments and advice before board meetings (you also hate surprises).
  2. Everyone likes to be consulted – use their experience to your benefit; don’t just talk, solicit advice and listen.
  3. Identify your lead directors – every functioning board has lead directors. Lead directors aren’t appointed (except the chairman who is probably – but not always – a lead director). The lead directors are the guys (guy includes those of both the female and male persuasions) whom other board members follow.
  4. Learn about your directors: different guys see the same issue from different angles – they are different people with different interests and different areas of expertise. Not all directors are created equal.
  5. We all learn differently – learn how best to communicate with each of your directors.
  6. Get the minutes out fast – discussions and decisions are better remembered after a few days than after a few weeks.
  7. Demonstrate respect – it’s not enough to listen, they need to know that you are listening.
  8. Feed them – it’s part II of “Demonstrate respect”.
  9. Everybody hates surprises II – communicate especially fast on sales and cash flow issues and challenges.
  10. Governance – it’s called governance for a reason. Remember that.

And your bonus board tip (#11) for today: call them. You can’t consistently communicate effectively only by email.  Call them. Meet with them. You’ll learn and they will appreciate it.