This is the first in a series of posts I’ll be writing on what makes a great board.
If you looked at the characteristics of great athletes and great boards, you would be surprised to find they share many of the same traits. Of all of those traits, however, the most distinguishing similarity may come down to one important factor: the refusal to leave any stone unturned.
Case in point: Lindsey Vonn. The 30-year old’s spectacular win this past weekend at the World Cup Downhill race at the Canadian ski resort of Lake Louise resulted in a US-Women‘s 1-2-3 podium sweep. More impressive was that she was able to compete at all: just under a year ago, it looked like injuries may have put Vonn’s downhill skiing aspirations on ice, forever.
That might have been the end of the story. Except for one important detail: Vonn didn’t want her career to be over. And to make sure it wasn’t over, she did the only thing she could do: she did everything she could. She “left no stone unturned” in her quest to return to the slopes, according to an interview posted last week by one of Vonn’s sponsors, Red Bull. Here is an excerpt from that interview:
After being in pain for the first two months, Lindsey’s left no stone unturned to return to the slopes…’I had to build everything back up from nothing. That took a lot of time and a lot of work – there is pretty much nothing I didn’t do,’ she says.
The commitment and focus required to leave no stone unturned is also the mark of a great board. And those aren’t the only characteristics that great boards and great athletes share. In fact, I would say they’re quite similar. Take a look:
Great athletes — and great boards:
- envision their full potential and commit to reaching it, focussing on being their best
- are honest with themselves– they know what works in leveraging their assets, what needs improvement and can see what is missing– whether they want to or not, they must embrace their vulnerabilities and address them
- have experts around them to help reach their goals
- achieve results, and in doing so, they leave no stone unturned.
Boards, like athletes, need to practice, evaluate and scrutinize their performance in order to stay on track. Most boards have unclear performance standards and few truly evaluate their effectiveness. Those that do evaluate their effectiveness often find that any action items are sometimes difficult to integrate, let alone overcome.
And, like athletes, boards are complex entities. They are often composed of strangers, gathered together an average of four times each year, each with differing experiences, knowledge and opinions. Needless to say, it takes a strong Chair to capitalize on their talents (while persuading them to leave their egos and politics at the board room door!).
Strategy, Mission and Vision
For a board, it takes commitment, courage, clarity and discipline to properly execute its role. That role is to know and understand the long-term vision of the organization, to be aligned on the vision, to understand the mission of the organization and to know and align on the strategy. The latter is critical since part of its role is to engage in strategy, as highlighted by NACD at their annual conference in October, 2014. A board can effectively engage in strategy when each board member understands exactly what the strategy is, how it fits within the mission and how the mission fits within the vision of the organization.
The New Year
Like any great athlete, a board cannot be great without reflecting, tweaking, practicing and, sometimes, undergoing complete transformations. It is inspiring to aspire to be our full potential as a board, especially since a board is comprised by so many great people.
As we wrap up 2014 and go into a New Year, this is a great opportunity to take the bull by the horns and to reflect on how we can take our board effectiveness to where it needs to be. Like any team, there is always more that we can do to bring the best out of each other. I invite you to strive to bring the best out of yourself as a Director, as the Chair of the Board or of a committee, as the CEO in the dual role of being a director and leader. And if you are about to join a board, I invite you to aspire to be a positive influence!
Think about the possibilities that we can manifest together if each time we enter the boardroom we consciously think about our legacies, our children and grandchildren. Seriously! We have to bring that kind of awareness to the board table each and every time we meet!
Follow me in January for more of my thoughts about “What makes great boards.”