Curiosity and Courage in the Boardroom
Asking questions is a near perfect way for you to learn and grow your knowledge in any environment, particularly in the boardroom.
Thinking that you know the reasons and details behind everything that you’re presented in the boardroom, or worse, just accept it on face value without verifying the information or doing independent thought or research to reach your own conclusions. It’s impossible to know everything about everything, and to keep up with everything constantly changing.
This is where having curiosity will help you. But it’s only half the picture.
Having curiosity is a two-pronged approach; on the one hand is knowing great questions to ask (or at least having a bag of go-to questions to ask in any situation where you want to deepen or further your understanding). On the other hand, you need to have courage to ask the question; particularly if you feel like it’s a dumb question or if you’re concerned that your question will cause or create problems. These questions are probably the ones that should never be backed away from, and are the most critical to be asked.
First, I want to address courage. It is something that you can develop and I have found that small amounts of courage accumulate to large amounts of courage: the more you’re courageous, the more courage you will have.
Here are some ways in which you can develop courage:
- Consider the bigger reason why you’re there and the role that you’re playing. In the boardroom you’re there to act in the best interests of the organisation in the long term, ensuring that it can continue to serve its community. Reflecting on why you took on this board role (or professional role) may help you to overcome any fear you might be feeling, and will help you to connect your actions to a higher purpose.
- Ask yourself: What is the worst that can happen? And, if that was to happen, how quickly could you recover from it?
- Be honest about the cost of inaction. Doing or saying nothing is rarely the best way to deal with an uncomfortable situation, and could lead to negative long term effects.
- Hold yourself accountable for your performance. Assess your boardroom (or other professional setting) performance after the meeting. Were you courageous and brave? Do you feel that you asked the right questions at the right time in the right way? Did it get the outcome expected and / or desired? Why / why not? What can you replicate / do differently next time?
- Find a role model who you can observe or learn from in order to keep improving the quality of questions that you ask in the boardroom (or other professional setting).
To address the other element of curiosity in the boardroom, let’s look at asking great questions.
Contrast these questions:
“Would you agree that we should do A instead of B?”
“Why didn’t you choose A?”
“Can you elaborate on the rationale for selecting strategy B instead of A?”.
Whilst all are questions, one is likely to land better and facilitate a more meaningful conversation than the others.
This article by Harvard Business Review goes deep into the methodology of asking great questions, including how to ensure the questioning type, tone, sequence, and framing is spot-on.
Over the years I have shared many articles about great questions you can ask in the boardroom on a wide range of subjects. I also have a podcast with questioning connoisseur, Greg Bustin, all about asking better questions. His book – That’s a Great Question – is highly recommended.
Here are some articles to check out to start collating a list of your great questions to ask in the boardroom:
- Five Questions to Ask About Your Board Recruitment
- Five Questions to ask your Board about Innovation
- Five Questions to ask about your Stakeholder Relations Activity
- Five Questions to Ask About The Financial Reports
- Five Questions to Ask your CEO
- Five Questions to ask About Your Strategy
- Five Questions to Ask About Your Board Culture
Over your board career you will accumulate a swathe of great questions to ask, along with assessing the right time and right tone to get the most out of the questions you ask. It takes practice and I encourage you to use your professional career and early board career to build this skill.