The best strategic thinking needs a sounding board more than a board of directors

“Let’s take a straw poll.”

Gordon leaned back, both arms straight, pushing against the edge of the table, like a king commanding his minions. The others squirmed in awkward silence.

This is the death knell for effective strategic leadership thinking: decisions railroaded through intimidation and shallow discussion.

A board room is fraught with pitfalls.

Personal agenda: The board member’s individual ambitions filter their contributions and perspective. What are they really there for? Individual ambitions need not be at loggerheads with the organisation’s, they can be mutually supportive. However, when personal goals supersede the organisation’s, decisions can be hijacked.

Ass-covering: Every governance program teaches the responsibilities, accountabilities and risks for Directors. It’s scary stuff! Negligence and improper governance can lead to losing your house and jail time. It’s not surprising that ass-covering is a primary concern in the board room. It can lead to risk-aversion and stifling innovation.

Poor meeting etiquette and management: It floors me how few meetings are managed properly. No ground rules, interruptions, distractions, dominated discussions, silenced voices. Meetings need manners.

Unconscious bias: We’ve all got assumptions that operate as our default thinking software. This is fine, until it creates judgements that are limiting. Bias blinkers.

Herd mentality: As herd animals, we love hanging out with those like us. Familiarity leads to a sense of safety. It also leads to a uni-focal perspective. Herds can follow each other over a cliff.

Rivalry: Directors are humans with all the usual human failings. Egos have hot buttons and sensitivities that can railroad better judgement.

Legacy: In many sectors, the craving for significance keeps many older men (and it is mainly men) clinging to board positions. There IS a difference between sharing wisdom and hanging on like a bad smell. If you’re not learning, you’re not contributing.

Suffice to say, that Boards can be extraordinary. And they can be very ordinary.

The future of effective leadership needs a sounding board, not just a directing board.

Your sounding board needs a few key representatives:

  • Outside of your own industry/sector (fresh perspective)

  • Not a personal friend or relative (they will have agendas for your failure and success)

  • Similar or more senior experience (they ‘get’ you)

  • Willing to give you tough love and straight talk

  • They’ve got your back

Have you got a personal council that acts like a sounding board? How do you get sage advice? How do you manage the pitfalls of the boardroom?

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