Posts filed under ‘11. Paradoxical Yet Key Support: The Board of Directors’
“On a bright, sunny day you can set your course on a landfall five miles away from you and sail right to it. But in the fog, you make your way by paying close attention to all the things immediately around you: the deep roll of the sea swells as you enter open ocean, the pungent scent of spruce boughs, or the livelier tempos of the waves as you approach land. You find your way by being sensitively and sensuously connected to exactly where you are, by letting ‘here’ reach out and lead you. You will not learn that in the navigation courses, of course. But it is part of the local knowledge that all the fishermen and natives use to steer by. You know you belong to a place when you can find your way home by feel.”
A friend recently shared this passage from Episcopal priest Cynthia Bourgeault’s book Mystical Hope. It is a lovely analogy describing the duality of consciousness that we can employ to chart a course to the same destination, yet experience the journey in entirely different manners. As Ms. Bourgeault further tells us,
“While egoic thinking is like sailing by reference to where you are not – by what is out there and up ahead – spiritual awareness is like navigating by reference to where you are. It is a way of “thinking” at a much more visceral level of yourself – responding to subtle intimations of presence too delicate to pick up at your normal level of awareness.”
It is navigating by reference to where you are in the moment, using less obvious cues to find your way, cues that, as she points out elsewhere, “emerge like a sea swell from the ground of your being once you relax and allow yourself to belong deeply to the picture.”
Applicable to so many aspects of my life, and such a good a metaphor for a sailor…
I have been thinking about this duality of approach in the context of my Board work. As a director, my key responsibility is to focus on the sight five miles out, which is natural for me as I am always seeking the “big picture,” and believe I can help pilot us toward our objective. Yet I also have this inclination to respond to what I believe I am sensing as the more detailed and subtle currents and patterns of the moment. When this happens, I need to remind myself that I am only sensing a small fraction of the real churning of the waters and the sudden shifts in the wind patterns. There is only one person that feels the fullness of the moment, and that is the real navigator — the CEO. When it comes to these “realities and intimations of the moment,” I have to remind myself that I am not the pilot now. I was once, and loved it. Now I am the coach; I am the teacher; I am the mentor. Not the captain. What I see is only a part of the canvas, maybe only the echoes of land we are about to touch rather than the full force of the trials and tribulations of the running of a business. This puts my “action orientation” to the test, requiring me to have faith that much good is happening and there is a very competent captain on board. It forces me to step fully into the “unknown.” And even though I dedicated a full chapter to this practice in my book, I am still learning to be comfortable there. It teaches me to be humble, remaining present even in the fog. Hopefully I will also add at times some of my wisdom to seeing subtleties in the fog that may be missed by others.
The Bourgeault passages that my friend shared inspired me to read the entire book, and in it I discovered a depth that is only hinted at in the sailing metaphor. Here is a sampling:
“…I saw how time – all our times – are contained in something bigger: a space that is none other than Mercy itself. The fullness (or ‘end’) of time becomes this space: a vast, gentle wilderness in which all possible outcomes – all our little histories, past, present, and future; all our hopes and dreams – are already contained and, mysteriously, already fulfilled.”
“If only we could understand this more deeply! If only we could see and trust that all our ways of getting there, all our courses over time – our good deeds, our evil deeds, our regrets, our compulsive choosings and the fallout from those choosings, our things left undone and paths never actualized – are quietly held in an exquisite fullness that simply poises in itself, then pours itself out in a single glance of the heart. If we could only glimpse that, even for an instant, then perhaps we would be able to sense the immensity of love that seeks to meet us at the crossroads of the Now, when we yield ourselves entirely to it.”
The concept that “all possible outcomes – all our little histories, past, present, and future; all our hopes and dreams – are already contained and, mysteriously, already fulfilled” is profound. Delving deeply into it is beyond the scope of this post – and my own depth of understanding of this topic. But I encourage you to dive in. To tease your interest, I suggest you consider Bourgeault’s words in the context of some of the newest thinking on quantum wave-particle duality and its relationship to consciousness…
“Central to the theory of quantum physics is that all matter exhibits the properties of both particles and waves. This central concept is called the wave-particle duality. It is also universally agreed that waves of quantum objects are waves of possibility.
Each measurement causes a change in the state of matter “from a wave of possibilities to a particle of actuality”. This change is called the collapse of the wave function. In simple terms, this is the reduction of all the possibilities of the wave aspect into the temporary certainty of the particle aspect.”
— God is Not Dead, Amit Goswami
Or, ponder literary references…
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
— The Four Quartets, T.S. Elliot
Rich food for thought and contemplation, these concepts, and while they may be elusive, they are important to many of our actions. As Board members, they challenge us to impact the journey of others in our charge while letting the tiller be handled by those closer to the day-to-day action.
Note: A good summary of the quantum-mechanical concepts as they related to what has become known as “Quantum Consciousness” can be found in my friend James Cusumano’s book, Cosmic Consciousness (Prague: Fortuna, 2011)
I do not know whether it is that I am getting old (a welcome fact) or soft (some may argue that on the human side I have always been) but I have been sensitive to touch lately. In my role as a member of the Board of Directors for several public companies and one academic center, I observe many chief executives and their senior teams. I marvel at the differences in how these accomplished individuals interact with their various constituents, particularly noticing those who are exercising leadership and those who are merely managing others. The difference can often be seen in how they connect: how they “touch.”
Two very concrete situations come to mind, involving two different organizations. In both of these cases, after reviewing presentations for an upcoming Board meeting, I shared by e-mail some brief observations with the CEO. One CEO immediately sent back a short note: “good comments, thank you.” I never heard back from the other. One touched me back; the other did not. Which case do you think made me feel better? Of course, there are many possible reasons why the second one did not respond. Too busy; never saw my e-mail; my observations not relevant. The latter was unlikely, since I did subsequently send the same comments to the Board Chair, and they were very positively received. But that is not the point. The point is that in one case there was closure of the interaction; none in the other. The first created an enrichment of the relationship; the second left a void. It was no big deal in the grand scheme of things, yet it was one of those subtle instances that to me differentiates good leadership.
Perhaps some CEOs think that we Board members do not need to be “touched.” After all, we are “accomplished individuals with extensive executive experience and a proven track record.” (This came from a Board Director job description.) Well, I have news for those CEOs: We are human too, vulnerable and uncertain at times, and with varying degrees of self-esteem, even if we all convey enormous self-confidence. We can all use – and often cherish – the feeling that we are needed and our contributions acknowledged and recognized. This is so even when (as has happened to me often) my suggestions, while not acknowledged, show up as actions later on. Yes, actions do speak louder than words, yet recognition still reinforces relationships.
The issue is, perhaps, aggravated by the prevalence of Internet communication. In my past career, I depended heavily on direct, in-person communication to fully convey meaning. I believe my colleagues felt my intentions as much as they understood them intellectually – tone of voice, body language, facial expression. And I could immediately gauge the level of understanding and connection in the exchange. Even silence in the conversation revealed enormous content. All those elements of effective dialogue are absent in e-mail communication, requiring us to be particularly mindful in the exchange. A word or two added to an e-mail can convey sentiment. The speed of the response can convey import. Cold as the electronic exchange medium may be, one can convey caring.
I believe it is essential to respond to all e-mails even with the briefest of acknowledgments. One of my favorite Board members, Ernie Mario, always impressed and touched me: he responded immediately to every communication, even if just with a short note. And one of my most treasured advisors, Larry Sonsini, always got back to me in less than 24 hours no matter where in the world he was. He made me feel that I mattered. But then Larry had this extraordinary capability to make me feel that I was the most important person in the world to him at that moment, no matter how busy he was.
We need to remember that so much of leadership is establishing and strengthening alliances. As leaders we are, after all, chartered with the task of sweeping others in our path to carry out the organization’s mission. We get others to join us, to the best of their abilities, in the pursuit of a goal. We seek ardor, not just execution. We seek added genius, not mere implementation. This requires continuous contact, acknowledgement, and appreciation of support. This touch, in the service of sustaining a vital connection, becomes even more important when the communication is largely electronic.
Granted, some of us need more touch than others, but I suggest that we all value it and, as leaders, must deliver it.
Unquestionably, the tone of a company is set by the top leadership. In Letter 5 “The Pull of Hubris” I talk about a company’s atmosphere, the air all employees breathe. I propose that it is made up of a special kind of oxygen, an oxygen that “comes from the very top of the organization.” When this oxygen begins to be tainted (as I believe visibly happened with a number of companies a few years ago) it can affect the whole organization – often without anyone being aware of it until it is too late.
So, how appropriate is it for top executives to receive what might be considered special treatment when the company at-large is being asked to be frugal? How does one draw the line between expenses that conserve performance capacity,– such as flying first class to ensure that an executive is rested when reaching a far away city to engage in a difficult and crucial negotiation– versus the travel and entertainment policy for the rank and file that insists on the cheapest fares? A tough balance.
It is not surprising that the question arises with the Board of Directors, as well. And here I have always found myself in a conundrum. While I was CEO, I applied the principle that if I wanted to fly first class or stay at a particularly luxurious hotel I paid the difference out of my own pocket unless it applied to all my senior management for a particular situation. But for the Board, I maintained the philosophy that I was privileged to have high powered Board members serving my company, and would do everything in my power to make their time with us as comfortable – and attractive – as possible. So I insisted that our Board members fly first class, and arranged for them to stay at the best hotels. Was I irresponsible? Did I squander shareholder money?
In Footnote 31 of the book I presented my “Rule of 3” to attract a Board member:
First, get the person excited about the vision;
Second, assure them that association with my company will never tarnish their reputation (this assurance is best done by pointing to who else has agreed to serve;) and,
Third, be super-respectful of board members’ time.
I should have added a Fourth rule:
Make the Board member as comfortable as possible so as to take away any hindrance to his or her fully focused presence and engagement in your company’s affairs while they are with you.
In the same footnote 31 I talk about the imperative of getting the best of the best on your Board. A Board offers a unique opportunity to harness enormous experience – often well beyond what you can afford to hire into your company. So when the CEO draws on a Board member’s time, principally at in-person Board meetings, you want to extract all the accumulated wisdom of the individuals’ extensive business experience.
Most Board members I have attracted do not “need the job” nor are they doing it for the payment. They do it because they enjoy sharing their experience by guiding companies whose missions they value and whose management they respect. They could be doing many other things with their time, and often we are asking them to interrupt other activities, travel many hours to be with us for only a day or two, and then “work them” hard when they arrive.
My philosophy: make it a pleasure for them to come. The price is well worth it!
Do you Agree? Disagree? Am I missing something?
From several readers of my book it has come to my attention that not everyone reads the Notes at the end of the Book. I have included in the Notes both the references to quotes as well as some additional reflections that, while important, I did not feel contributed to the flow of my Letters. One in particular (Note 31) deals with Boards of Directors and I will reproduce it here as I think it contains some interesting guidelines for Board formation.
“Lessons to keep in mind with boards: (1) Always build a board that is bigger than you need. (2) Strongly opinionated executives with a proven track record are good to have on the board—as long as you have several, and they respect one another. Their opinions will balance and optimize the outcome. The critical factor is not their individual strengths but the composite. (3) Even the board member who at times seems most difficult and “marginal” makes a contribution at the right time. (4) Management of the board requires a strong CEO and a strong chair. Good teamwork between CEO and chair is critical. (5) Follow the key “rule of 3” to attract a board member: First, get the person excited about the vision; second, assure the candidate that association with your company will never tarnish his or her reputation (this assurance is best done by pointing to who else has agreed to serve; and third, be super-respectful of board members’ time. (6) Do not shy away from internal referrals when looking for new board members. High quality attracts high quality. The power of “interlinking” is healthy.”
In Letters to a Young Entrepreneur I have shared with you some of the highlights of my entrepreneurial journey. Here I very much welcome your comments, critique, suggestions, and, most importantly, sharing of your own experiences and insights.
My hope is that through this dialogue we all benefit from our common entrepreneurial adventure, and perhaps provide some new approaches to the challenges we all face as we embody our dream.