Over the past several years, I have advised several clients who have found themselves working with challenging boards of directors. In each case, the CEO was very competent and successful, but struggled with certain board members who had contrarian points of view.
As I reflected on their situations and attempted my best to offer advice, I was reminded of books about two great leaders. The first is Tough Choices, written by Carly Fiorina about her time as CEO of HP; the second is Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football, written by John U. Bacon. (I’m not crazy; I know those subjects sound like they’re worlds apart!)
Let me try and connect the dots. In both books, commissioned and endorsed by Fiorina and Rodriguez, I made the following observation (and I repeat that all I know is what was in “their” books): Obviously, facts are important — but often, there’s more to consider. In my opinion, both Fiorina and Rodriguez were out of touch or acted as if they “didn’t care” what key stakeholders thought. I’m not recommending being political. What I am recommending is using your common sense and listening — actively listening, asking clarifying questions, and attempting to understand other points of view, especially those of your board members.
In both situations, I’m sure there were other factors involved. But as I advise executives, especially those leaning toward “right is right” attitudes, I encourage them to leave their ego at the door and work hard to understand from where the board member is coming. The individual may actually have a good point, but perhaps they’re doing a poor job of expressing it. To summarily dismiss the board member’s point of view is suicide.
Ask Carly Fiorina and Rich Rodriguez.