The actions taken by the Board of Directors of an organization sets the standard of excellence for how an organization will operate. Boards are comprised of business and civic leaders and are chosen for specific talents, connections or leadership qualities. The characteristics a leader has shown in other capacities is often what draws a board of directors to ask certain people to join their board. Chief executives and savvy board members understand the importance the composition of a board has on its performance. The Board will usually select from its membership certain members to serve as officers such as, President or Chairman, Vice-President, Secretary, and Treasurer. The Officers selected have legally binding obligations requiring more time than other board positions.
Nothing is truly new under the sun and that applies to entrepreneurs as well as any others. They make the same mistakes as their predecessors. That doesn’t make them wrong or inept – just human.
One common rationale for unproductive boards is “we have a board because our lawyer told us we need one.” Management moves to transfer accumulated liabilities to the board in an attempt to escape their own fate as failed management. The resulting lawsuits were not pretty. You can finish the title of this article any way you learned it. The way I learned it cannot be repeated here. The message, however, is one that every entrepreneur and start-up team needs to learn and, in my experience, almost none of them do learn. The postmortems that I have done on dead and dying start-ups show a clear pattern of mistakes and oversights which lead to the eventual demise of the company – and dissipation of the resourced and energy of the founders. At the center of most of these patters is the same mistake – made by team after team repeatedly.
Leadership is easier to explain than to practice – but when you see it you know it intuitively. My leadership coaching engagements are with executives who have developed some leadership skill and are intent on improving. Many have discovered that, as they rise in an organization, it has become more and more difficult to achieve objectives or remain focused. My leadership coaching approach focuses on the necessary improvements to allow clients to master the challenges that they are facing and prepare for the new ones that an advancing career inevitably brings. Even top executives hire me to help them hone their leadership skills.
Leadership coaching can make a huge difference in the career prospects of an up-and-coming executive. The delays and risks of learning by experience – by your mistakes and successes – can put you seriously behind your competitors. There is a sense of gambling about letting fate take the lead in determining how you will develop your leadership skills.
Leadership coaching is all about bringing out the potential in clients – whether they are executives or managers – entrepreneurs or consultants – at all levels. I have worked with all of these and more as a leadership coach. I help them change – develop leadership skills – by providing them essential space to reflect and grow. Leadership coaching is not only my favorite type of coaching – it can be the most powerful approach for developing a client’s capacity to be very good leaders.
In my work with boards of directors, the issue of developing a reliable source of leadership comes up often. Boards need a combination of very high quality homegrown and off-site talent in order to meet their responsibilities to the shareholders and provide good governance. One of the most important functions of the board is to see to the succession of the current CEO. Directors must assure that the company has the right CEO and assure that there are candidates in development to take the role once the current CEO has been retired. Helping the board to organize and manage such a flow is one of the most important services that I render.
While I was living in Glasgow, Scotland, a friend was dispatched from the home office of a British auto manufacturer to take part in an orientation program in Italy. An Italian company had purchased his company and he was among the first group of senior executives to be introduced to the culture and business model of the new parent. He was in Italy for some weeks. When he returned, I asked him what struck him the most about the Italian way of doing business. He relied “I could never figure out who was in control – it kept changing from day to day – from project to project”. I just smiled at him and said “Welcome to the post-modern management era.”
The deer in the headlights – we all know the story – the car rounds the bend on a dark night – the deer stands frozen in the glare and cannot move even as its death approaches. Humans sometimes act this way – and sometimes with similar consequences.
Most of my work is done with middle-market companies – by that I mean well established operations with a proven senior team that has worked through most of the big inter-personnel issues and found a way to work productively together. Under the leadership of a CEO who values open communication and camaraderie – and does not tolerate turf battles and information hording.
A successful manager is the one who is able to get the strongest performance from his team. Most high-performance managers have employed an executive coach during their rise to the top. One of reasons that this pattern is so prevalent is that a coach helps bring out the best in the manager – and that helps the manager bring out the best in their team. Qualities that a manager should have and be able to imbue in his team are those that enable his employees to prosper and perform productively. Through the assistance of an executive leadership coach, these skills are nurtured and refined. Here are some of the areas that I work on with clients in my coaching practice:
We look in them every day – and use them as metaphors for achieving deeper self-knowledge. Every person we meet is one and what they show us can be far more valuable than any highly polished surface.
I won’t sugarcoat it – mentoring can bring some very aggravating experiences. Sometimes it takes forever to achieve just a small illumination. Then there are the times – backsliding – when months of work seems to be washed away by a recidivist tendency. But then there are the other kinds that make the occasional frustration fade into the background. Let me tell you about one of these experiences.