Board relationships: what if everyone on your board stopped lying?

Members of operating boards are constantly lying. Not about the business or dodgy behaviour, tho’ they sometimes do, but mostly they lie about themselves.

They are afraid to tell each other who they are and so they lie. All the time. So much so that they don’t realise it. They don’t necessarily have to speak to lie and so most of their lies are silent because those are the easiest to tell.

Logically, they know deep down that their behaviour doesn’t make sense. The success of their business is almost wholly dependent on the quality of their relationships with their fellow directors. Therefore you would think that they would do everything to maximise the quality of those relationships.

And nothing improves the quality of board relationships more than even a small improvement in trust. Trust thrives on truth, not lies. Again, that’s logical.

But when have you known logic to drive board behaviour? I’m regularly staggered by the number of operating board members, ExCom members and function team members I encounter who work together closely for years and years and haven’t a clue about the truth about each other.

By the truth I mean “the truth about the thing”. And we all know what “the thing” is. It’s whatever has caused most pain in one’s life. If ever you have had the privilege, as I have through my work, of hearing about peoples’ deepest pain they often start by saying something like “The thing about me is…”.

Even people who initially protest that they’ve had a halcyon life ultimately admit that it’s not true and that they too have had deep pain of one sort or another. Because pain is at the heart of human existence.

So what has all this to do with improving board relationships and therefore board performance and a sense of fulfilment? The answer is that, as the great philosophers tell us, confronting pain is the gateway to achieving potential or as some people rather elegantly put it: promise.

Promise is a sweet word because it captures both potential and commitment to doing what you say you will do.

So imagine what would happen to your board if everyone on it had the courage to admit their deepest pain thereby creating the possibility of achieving their greatest potential and therefore keeping their promises to be what they can and should be on your board. What’s not to like?

The answer is that some would prefer to chew their own hands off than open up about personal issues to colleagues. Others, more sadly and indeed more frequently, are not connected to their feelings, to a greater or lesser extent.

To them they have nothing to communicate. To them, all this reads like so much mumbo jumbo and psychobabble.

But it isn’t. Fortunately, recent advances in research into emotional intelligence means that the most fervent deniers of the impact of “soft issues” have been outflanked. Work on improving EQ/EI on boards is now, not just commonplace but, mandatory.

In my experience, denial is not the problem. It’s not knowing what to do. The “transformation” obsession in business is the root cause of this “rabbit in the headlight” situation about behavioural change.

Transformation in business is as rare as hens’ teeth. Small changes in behaviour, on the other hand, are not. If facilitated they can lead, in aggregate, to big impacts on outcomes.

At your next post operating board meeting lunch or drinks why not risk telling your colleagues who you really are. What’s the worst that can happen?






Three steps to unblocking road blocking behaviour on your board of directors

Last week The Times reported that the term “roadblock” was used to describe a surgeon at the centre of a shocking medical malpractice case in the north of England.

Colleagues, apparently, had to “work around” him and concerns about his behaviour were either ignored by him or buried by others. The case reminded me of how prevalent this story is in business.

Although the roadblock cases we all witness on boards may not be as devastating as that one, they can nevertheless cause grievous harm to people and businesses.

But what can you do? These are often bright, effective and key people in the business. They may be robust in their dealings with colleagues but charming with clients and, crucially, they deliver results.

Challenging them is difficult. They are powerful and don’t use, shall we say, Queensbury Rules during difficult exchanges. In short, they bully.

It’s not easy to tackle this problem but it’s not impossible. In fact the issue itself is simple: how to deal with bullying behaviour. The problem is in mustering the courage and enlisting support to deal with it. I use a three step approach in my programmes which I hope you find helpful.

Step 1: Ensure that each director, including the “roadblock”, has a shared, and agreed, understanding of the objectives and strategy of the business.

More often than not, I find there isn’t such a shared understanding save that everyone wants to make as much money as possible. That doesn’t count in my book. That’s like breathing. It goes without saying.

Ask each director to come up with a more sophisticated objective than making money and a strategy to achieve it. The outcome can be surprisingly positive, productive and unifying. At the very least it will clarify any misunderstandings.

It’s crucial to ensure that the “roadblock” signs up to the strategy too. Don’t move to the next step until they do. You may find that this process leads to some softening by the offending director. Or not.

Step 2: Check that there is unanimity amongst all the directors on the roadblock issue. Unless everyone is saying the same things, the problem could be something, or someone, else.

If there is unanimity then agree that everyone on the board not only has the right but also the duty to call out the behaviour on the next occasion it arises. Then, crucially, the person who does call out the bad behaviour must be backed by the others.

This is not about “ganging up” but an important step in reinforcing the agreed approach in dealing with the roadblock which is about always coming back to business strategy and objectives, not personality differences. This is good corporate governance, not corporate politics.

Step 3: Is to make a small change in how everyone deals with the roadblock at board meetings. The principle here is that the other person won’t change unless you change first. A commitment to small change in behaviour, over time, is easier to secure than so called “transformational” change which is a lesser spotted occurrence than some commentators would have us believe.

On the next occasion and at a fully attended board meeting – ideally an operating board meeting, not a main board meeting because procedures tend to be more formal there – when roadblocking behaviour occurs, then one director must muster the courage to enquire how that behaviour helps implement the strategy to achieve the agreed objective. I say “must”, intentionally.

The response is likely to be a strong, if not brutal, push back or to obfuscate or both. Each director should in turn ask the same question or otherwise indicate that they back the questioner. It’s as simple as that, even though it may not feel that simple.

Unless you have chosen the wrong battle to fight or someone lets you down in the room, this approach should work, over time. You will find that on each occasion the other party is challenged to explain the link between their behaviour and business strategy to which, after all they have signed up, they will struggle to maintain the roadblock behaviour in the face of such ongoing unity of purpose.

If their behaviour is unconscious they may even see the light. On the other hand, if they are successful narcissistic bullies they will try everything to bully their way out of the challenge.

If every director sticks to their guns and quietly and calmly return, each time they are rebuffed or traduced, to the agreed business purpose and strategy the other party will have to relent, ultimately.

And if they don’t then the directors have a choice: either to remove the roadblock or become part of it themselves. Sadly, too often the latter is the case but it doesn’t have to be so, if everyone has each other’s backs.

How unresolved issues between your board members are impacting your business, and what to do about them

Why not have a facilitated emotional intelligence workshop at the end of your next board meeting?

  • Your board meeting is finished, the agenda covered, and the minutes taken but what about the unresolved relationship issues that are never minuted? My clients tell me that these are the biggest barriers to effective boards and which effectiveness reviews don’t address.
  • The future of your business depends, largely, on the quality of interactions between your board members. If there are problems or a lack of clarity, they matter because they impact the bottom line. Your board is unique. So yours needs bespoke attention, not generic change management solutions.
  • We avoid these issues because they are difficult to address. My workshop provides a framework to address them, incrementally, safely and with a high chance of success in three steps:
    • Supporting the acknowledgement of the behaviour on your board you would you like to see changed and by whom
    • Exploring the positive impact on your business of the changes
    • Tools to assist the behavioural change
  • You may feel that people just don’t change or won’t on your board. But people can and do change behaviour if incentivised to do so.  What better incentive than knowing that if you change your behaviour, every other board member will do so too? It’s simple and it works.

For information on case study examples and costs, you can arrange an exploratory telephone call by  emailing me at or text me on 07966168874