Why directors should reveal their purpose to colleagues, if they know it

laughing board

Some view the boardroom as a cross between a bear pit and The Coliseum. A place where ritual humiliation can be observed if not savoured. An arena of intricate game playing where the winner gets their way.

Why would any director take the risk of being vulnerable in these circumstances, even if the caricature above is only sometimes true?

The answer to that question is that if you feel that your board is irredeemably dysfunctional, then you should leave it.

But most boards are remedial, because most directors, bar psychopaths and extreme narcissists, are in search of meaning to their lives, even if they might not admit it or indeed be aware of it.

The downside of the current obsession with “board effectiveness” is that it almost anthropomorphises boards. Boards, per se, can be neither effective nor ineffective

Only directors can be effective, and so, ideally, director effectiveness reviews should replace board effectiveness reviews.

But don’t expect directors to be all clamouring to be personally reviewed, even anonymously, anytime soon because they would feel exposed.

Their weaknesses would be laid bare. Their insecurities revealed. Their lack of clear purpose and direction a potential embarrassment.

Many readers will scoff at this scenario as a wild generalisation. They will protest that they have a singular focus, probably based on some external measure of success.

But many too would if given a chance to explore it, acknowledge a gnawing sense of internal purposeless wholly at odds with their frenetic and often stressful external personae as directors.

How can boards possibly achieve their potential if a context isn’t created to enable its directors to achieve theirs?

The best-kept secret in business life is that organisations are merely a loose collection of individuals for a brief period and not a unitary body which acts like some corporate robot programmed by a unanimous board.

It’s a nonsensical construct. But we all collude with it because we see no alternative.

But what if it were possible for directors to be themselves at their board meetings? What if they could share with colleagues their journeys towards meaning and fulfilment?

How much more powerful therefore would their collective decision-making processes acting as a group of searching people sharing in a joint endeavour?

It will never happen on your board, you may say. But are you sure? What do you know, if anything, about the interior lives of your colleagues?

What do you know about your own interior life? What if you mustered the courage to make just a small change in how much you reveal about yourself to your board colleagues?

If you do, then watch and notice how, if you change, they’ll change. I’ve seen it done and it works.

Ciarán Fenton

I help directors relate better: with themselves, their colleagues and their organisations by exploring personal and organisational purpose, strategy and behaviour – Personal/Organisational PSB

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