Yesterday’s vote illustrates the lethal dangers of an Executive Chair

Yesterday’s vote marks the nadir in political decision-making process in UK’s recent history.

The vote is, in business terms, the equivalent of a CEO failing to get their business plan approved by the main board after two years trying.

Business boards have contributed to the problem by failing to lobby Parliament strongly enough to ensure that Leave and Remain voters, who are equally entitled to a properly led and managed Brexit process, get one.

That’s because some businesses are not properly led and managed. Their leaders don’t know what they don’t know about leadership and safe decision-making.

It’s also because some wealthy business leaders will be insulated from the negative impact of a poorly led and managed Brexit. They don’t have to care.

But chiefly it’s because of our willingness to tolerate Executive Chairs, whether they hold that title formally, or not.

Instead of acting as the equivalent of a CEO of an Executive Committee or Operating Board reporting to Parliament, which is the equivalent of a main board, Mrs May has attempted, sometimes successfully, to convert the Cabinet into the main board acting as its Executive Chair.

Mr Blair was heavily criticised in The Chilcot Report for using a similar tactic – the “sofa” approach – during the Iraq crisis. If the current crisis turns into a similar catastrophe, Mrs May too should expect an enquiry into her behavior.

Few would contest that the vote was a vote on Mrs May’s deal and not one on her Cabinet’s deal and, manifestly, not a vote on a deal negotiated over time with Parliament.

No organisation can make good decisions, sustainably, through the force of the personality of one person, no matter how hard working or well intentioned. Mrs Thatcher learned that lesson to her tearful cost.

Nor should they be permitted to do so when stakeholders needs are at severe risk.

But few will be surprised or unfamiliar by and with this behaviour. Many readers will sit on boards where the Non-Executive Chair is anything but a non-executive or, in flagrant breach of good governance, holds formally the title of Executive Chair.

Furthermore, readers will know of many CEOs who act as Executive Chairs in the presence of weak but formally appointed Non-Exec Chairs surrounded by equally weak and supine non-executive directors.

The upshot is that in business and in politics we continue to ignore good corporate governance. This leads to poor decision-making and dangerous decisions.

Whether you voted Leave or Remain you can’t deny that the decision-making process over the last two years was deeply flawed. The outcome, consequently, is dangerous for all stakeholders.

So, are you currently tolerating an Executive Chair on your board, or a Non-Exec Chair behaving as one?

If yes, vote them off.

And if not now, when?


One thought on “Yesterday’s vote illustrates the lethal dangers of an Executive Chair

  1. Ciaran ,
    An executive chair is made not born . It is made out of seemingly benign but ultimately shadow and destructive forces . I need to support the leader ( shadow – the assassin never takes over from the victim ) and we have a mandate / direction from our stakeholders to execute and not to think ( shadow – I have no real commitment to anything in particular other than proving we completed the assigned task ) .
    Theresa May is a creation of those we refuse to be honest about themselves and what they believe in and their own failure to build alliances to assert that guardianship role . She is a victim as much as a misguided leader . And her willingness to be an ill-equipped leader when others stepped back was an ego mistake but may not be an ego decision . The arrogant get us into problems , the ill-equipped volunteer makes them worse but the tragedy is the former is lauded by history as a risk taker and the latter is derided as a ditherer . Where is the judgement on those who allowed both ? Where is their judgment on themselves as they are diminished by group think ? If I were being Fentonish I would say something provocative like “ You are judged by the company you keep on the wrong track rather than the company you keep at the board dinners “

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