The Board of Directors is generally considered to be the most important leadership collective in an organisation, tasked with the all-important mission of guiding the fortunes of a venerable and admired institution.
As such, it is composed of the best and brightest minds available. Men and – increasingly – women, who apply their considerable collective intellect to rationally address the challenges confronting the organisation. As the apex organisation within the organisational ecosystem, it embodies the best traits of the organisation and serves as the template for everyone else in the ecosystem. Or at least that is the perception of its ethos, purpose and function.
However, when we examine the composition of the Boardroom, a slightly different picture emerges. Firstly, the non-executive directors are usually eminent persons who have ascended to their positions due to their successful pursuits in other areas of business. For some it is a reward for their achievements in other businesses or industries. For others it may be in recognition of their loyal service to the industry or the company itself. Yet others are appointed by shareholders who are intent on pursuing their own strategic objectives and interests, while others have lobbied for their Board position in order to further their own business interests. Finally, we have the Executive Directors in senior management who are embroiled in resolving the day-to-day internal contradictions within the organisation while juggling the demands of founders, shareholders, staff, customers, regulators and society at large – a weighty responsibility indeed.
Viewed from this perspective, the Board could be seen more as a collection of strong-minded individuals with disparate and often competing opinions and interests, each vying to impose their will on the organisation. This scenario can result in Boardroom proceedings eventually becoming a battle of wills, and finally – a battle of egos.
In reality, both perceptions are true to some degree. The Board is made up of highly qualified individuals who have earned their spot, and at the same time, many of them have their own agendas.
The underlying tensions created by this dichotomy can either be managed in a collegial, mature manner with the best interests of the organisation at the heart of proceedings, or – during times of tension and high drama (which is not uncommon in the Boardroom) – the ego-driven approach can rule the day.
The lesson to be learned on our journey to becoming a self-aware, ethical, and effective Director is:
(1) to recognise the Board’s descent into ego wars,
(2) to set personal ego aside, and
(3) to intentionally manage the Board’s ascent back to its rightful place at the apex of the organisational Ecosystem.
It’s a hard reality to confront, but it is through the acknowledgment of the ego’s presence that we learn the most important lessons on the journey to true Board leadership.