If you’ve ever served on a corporate board, you know it’s a lot like a family. You inherit a team composed of leaders who sometimes share values and common goals but more often bring different opinions and varying agendas. It’s up to you to pull them together.
Jeff Booth, CEO of BuildDirect, explains, “Like the people you grew up with, you may not get to choose your board members but you still have to make things work.” Booth experienced some of the same “aha moments” working with his board that I encountered years ago when I was the CEO of ProLogis.
We were working through some tough decisions for our company and though I didn’t realize it at the time, transparency paved a way for me to build trust with my board, shareholders and employees.
I can recall several critical board meetings in particular that could have gone badly had I chosen to skirt the issues. Instead, I felt more comfortable with sharing everything I knew about our situation. Being honest about what I knew and equally important, what I didn’t know, helped us build bridges over the gaps we faced.
Looking back, that openness accomplished several things:
Neutralize the situation
Openly stating what you don’t know neutralizes your fear of not having all the answers. It also encourages your board members to engage in productive debate instead of unnecessarily challenging you or your executive team.
Open communication fosters a climate of problem solving. When your board members have all the facts, you level the playing field. They become your equals in creating solutions rather than your devil’s advocate.
Booth says, “If you share your problems openly, showing vulnerability and asking for counsel directly, board members are more likely to reciprocate.” I agree. Vulnerability strips away the veneer of “we versus you” and encourages board members to lend a hand rather than sit in judgment.
Today, I serve on several boards and enjoy the work immensely. Each is unique with board members bringing different perspectives to the table. But I have found that transparency universally moves boards to act in an appropriate way.
Though your board members are often inherited like family members, you’ll be surprised at how open communication can bring you together. Try creating a new norm for problem solving by showing vulnerability with your board members. You might be surprised to find you have a group of leaders who genuinely want to help.