How would an emotionally intelligent board, or cabinet, make decisions?

I was struck by the use of the word “bicker” in today’s FT regarding the behaviour of ministers at yesterday’s cabinet meeting to discuss the “Brexit delay”.

Bicker is a word parents use. I’m sure I must have used it with our children all those years ago when they were little. “For heavens sake! Stop bickering! I’m at the end of my tether…aaaaagh!” And if I didn’t, I should have.

Because bickering implies that no one is listening to the other. That’s what children frequently do.

And who would argue the fact that few in the cabinet or in parliament are listening to each other or that they are behaving like children? They would, I’m sure.

Bickering implies that the cabinet has no shared purpose. If it had it would have long ago agreed a shared strategy. But you can’t have a shared strategy if you haven’t negotiated a shared purpose.

And without a purpose and a shared strategy, a board or cabinet is, as we say gently in Ireland when things are broken, “fecked”.

And the cabinet is truly fecked. Just watch it implode over the next few weeks. Sadly, for all.

But even if you have a shared purpose and strategy your behaviour plan must be robust enough to execute. Or you can still fail.

As poor Joe Schmidt found last Saturday against an awesomely brilliant Welsh team. Sniff.

So the risks for a board with high EI/EQ are tough even in good times. In bad times, a board with low EI/EQ courts disaster.

And an absence of bickering on your board should not give rise to smugness as you balefully observe the behaviour of the cabinet.

One Chair told me many years ago that they had no board behaviour problems at all because they never needed to vote. “We are all team players”, they boasted. Potentially bullying words, in my view.

Their assumption made me feel queasy on behalf of their silent directors. How did the Chair know what people were really feeling unless the board voted regularly?

You should be as wary of a certain type of silence on your board as you should be of bickering on it.

Members of an emotionally intelligent board are:

a) empathetic

b) self-aware

c) know how to negotiate their needs, productively.

If any of these three is missing, decision-making processes will be flawed leading to higher risks – especially conduct risk – and missed opportunities.

Many boards are not unlike Mrs May’s and Mr Corbyn’s cabinets: stuck.

Ciarán Fenton

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