A board of directors needs to develop strength, so don’t stunt its growth

“It’s not personal: it’s business.” With all due respect to Michael Corleone in the film, the godfather’s philosophy just doesn’t work when it comes to board development. People get involved in boards because they have a personal interest in the mission and vision of the organization. As a CEO with 30-plus years’ experience, I know that combining a strong strategic plan with a strong board means strong results.

What does a strong board look like? They’re the big-picture folks who stay at 30,000 feet in order to give you the best feedback. When you say, “Check me on this …” they share the professional Cliffs Notes of their own personal experience. Every person you recruit to your board is a potential chair. And they do what they can to move the organization forward without witch hunts, stalling or sweating the day-to-day operations you and your staff already have down to a science.

Sweat equity necessary

A strong board/CEO relationship sounds great, but it takes some sweat equity on everyone’s part to get there. Consider these building blocks:

  • Expectations: Clearly defined responsibilities and roles are a given. Write them down and have everyone sign off on them. Include a section about board self-assessment — peer governance is an excellent tool.
  • Transparency: All good relationships require trust. You and your board need to be able to lean into each other in order to settle issues and meet goals, and trust is the only way to get there.
  • Exchange of ideas: This is a collaboration. Hear each other out. Don’t try to win at brainstorming. You’ve assembled a team of mentors and advisers — take it out for a test drive and see what the horses can do.
  • Continuing education: No new information shows up without getting outside of your own (collective) mind. Open the windows in your conference room and let some fresh thinking in.

The next step comes down to confidence. As CEO, you need to be confident enough in yourself and your staff to let your board be strong. We’re done with the puppet show … you know the one where we tell the board what they want to hear and they nod, smile and follow Robert’s Rules of Order. You’ve worked hard to recruit and cultivate excellence; let them do what you brought them in to do.

Conversely, the board needs to place confidence in its CEO. They’ve brought on a professional who’s ready, willing and able to do the heavy lifting the position requires. They need to give you enough room to do your job.

Lastly, all good strategic plans involve vision, and pursing vision involves risk. The key is, you and your board are working hand-in-glove, which makes it a calculated risk. You’ve done your homework: The vision and strategic plan are there to guide you and all stakeholders involved are at the top of their professional game because they have a personal interest in the organization’s mission. That’s right … it’s personal. And that’s why you’re going to succeed.