Being a Board Director during Covid-19
Directors spend a signiﬁcant amount of their time in boardrooms and need the requisite intellectual curiosity, self-awareness, and competencies to achieve their organisation’s strategy.
Today’s boardroom is already dealing with digital governance and the shifts in environment, sustainability and accountability. In an evolving, technology-driven world, the boardroom of the future will require directors with more developed skill sets. Boardroom competency is critical, but so too is character. Boardroom Coaching supports directors in integrating their boardroom competence with greater self -awareness and intellectual curiosity, to promote more purposeful conversations and enhanced strategic and operational decision-making in the boardroom.
The World Health Organization declared coronavirus (COVID-19) a pandemic on March 11, 2020, causing huge impact on people’s lives, families and communities. In addition to the serious implications for people’s health and the healthcare services COVID -19 is having a signiﬁcant impact on businesses and the economy. As a result, business owners and entrepreneurs are worried about the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The discussions and decisions made in the boardrooms during this time will be felt in the decades ahead. The concept of the boardroom – as a particular place where executives meet has been profoundly shifted.
My journey for the past 23 years has taken me inside the boardroom in a variety of roles. First as a practicing Attorney then in-house counsel, then as an independent Non-Executive director, as a Chairperson of boards and now as a coach of directors.
Shifts in the Boardroom
Directors spend a significant amount of their time in boardrooms and need to have the requisite intellectual curiosity, self-awareness, passion and competencies to achieve the organisation’s strategy. The reality we are currently facing is that as board members we are facing high levels of stress, fears about the business, the economy, and including feeling vulnerable about our health, and that of our families. The days of hopping on to a plane to for a board meeting, is no longer possible – for now. Instead the reality that we face is that our CEO could contract the virus or the chairperson of the board needs to self-isolate.
With companies requiring staff to work remotely, and countries imposing lock down measures the ways of working have changed. Instead there are urgent and special board meetings, Whatsapp board groups set up for quicker interaction, weekly financial update reports. The pace of information, data and decisions has increased significantly because of the unchartered waters the world find itself in currently.
And Boards need to keep up – using technology for board meetings has been transformational for those boards who have been able to adapt quickly.
Alvin Toffler once said – the “Illiterate of the future are not those that cannot read or write, but those that cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”.
Board members now more than ever need to be adaptive and flexible – be able to unlearn and relearn new competencies and skills, because the realities of business today, are rapidly evolving on a daily basis.
There is also evidence of dysfunctional boards, and delinquent, incompetent directors on boards that have negatively impacted the performance of companies. The corporate scandals of Enron, Worldcom, Barings Bank, Steinhoff and Eskom are recent reminders.
As a director myself, I have journeyed and experienced a range of boardroom behaviours, tactics and antics while making decisions – all the while being aware that these very important conversations have a significant impact on people, profits and the planet.
As a director in the boardroom, my functional skills (areas of expertise and technical skills) are critical, but I cannot ignore that I also bring myself – my character, my life experience, my perspectives and biases – into the boardroom. Therefore, navigating the conversations in the boardroom, and making decisions that are in the best interests of the company, requires a high level of self-awareness.
Coaching for the boardroom assists directors in developing a conscious awareness of the integration of their competencies with their character and leadership style in decision making and making them ready for the future.
The dynamics for board directors in the boardroom is qualitatively different than at an executive management level and having a boardroom coach who understands this difference and has walked the road, is critical.
Boardroom coaching is focused on professional development for the Boardroom.
In the Boardroom, the director has a fiduciary responsibility which is different to that of executive management. The director needs to navigate various stakeholders relationships in reaching a decision that is in the best interests of the company – and be accountable for those decisions to all stakeholders, including shareholders. Executive Management may be in their positions for a lengthy period of time, but the composition of the Board is fluid with members rotating and resigning over time while new board members are appointed.
Perhaps the biggest difference is that the board comprises board members who have nothing in common except that they meet once a quarter to oversee the organisation of which they are the governing institution.
Boardroom competency is critical, but so too is character. By coaching directors to integrate their skills with greater self-awareness and intellectual curiosity, more purposeful boardroom conversations and enhanced strategic and operational decision-making can take place.
Boardroom coaching broadens directors perspectives, nurtures their sense of humanity, stimulates ethical consciousness and promotes more positive boardroom behaviour.
My reflection as a director, but also as a coach, is that this crisis invites all of us to be curious and courageous in navigating profitable and sustainable decision making for the future, and this requires us to be adaptable. Adaptable to learn, unlearn and relearn new competencies for the boardroom as well as the self-awareness of how we respond individually in a crisis.
My passion, (through my company Boardvisory) is to support directors in developing a conscious awareness that you are more powerful and effective when you integrate your individual competence, with your technical competence. An effective board has board members who are courageous, able to hold diverse perspectives, acts with integrity and have the requisite curiosity.
The world right now needs better boards, and I hope to contribute by coaching board directors.