Five Habits Every Board Member Should Develop
As a board member you have to know a little bit about a lot of things. It can be a little overwhelming at times. Thankfully, there are a handful of things that you can do as a board member that will help you be more effective and efficient. I’ve distilled these down to a list of five habits that I think every board member should work to develop to be a stand-out director on any board:
1. Keep Contemporaneous Notes
Keep what?! If you’re like me, you’ve never heard of this word until you entered the board space. Essentially what it means is ‘concurrent or happening at the same time’; and what it means for board members is that you should keep your own notes as and when the board meeting is happening.
“But there are minutes to the meeting, so why do I have to keep my own notes?” I hear you ask…
Having official minutes is wonderful (and necessary) – it’s also something that I mention in my next point – however; the formal minutes may not go into the level of detail that really reflects the reality of how a decision or a discussion went down. For example, if you felt very strongly on a certain issue, presented your argument, and voted no, the minutes may only say something like “the board discussed [the issue] and the majority voted in favour.”
Your personal notes may want to cover your counter-argument and note down that your vote was the no vote. These notes are useful to have a reference if and when anything goes awry with the decision that was made, and if you may need to show them as evidence. This is unlikely to happen (hopefully), yet will be invaluable if you ever need to go back and review an earlier decision of the board. Having a track record of keeping your own notes will also help to work in your favour.
Go old-fashioned with a notebook or go digital by keeping electronic notes during meetings. Whichever way you do it, make sure they are thorough, you understand them, and you do it consistently.
2. Read the Minutes
This is where your contemporaneous notes will come in handy! After every meeting when the minutes come out (which should happen one-to-two days after the meeting) take some time to read them and cross reference with your own notes. Anything of significance – or that you perceive to be significant – that you see missing or not fully detailed, suggest an amendment to the minutes.
You will have to accept the minutes of the previous meeting at the next subsequent meeting, so you have the responsibility to be comfortable with the content of the formal minutes.
Any changes that you do suggest to the minute-taker / secretary be sure to copy your Chair into the communication. That way, they are across your suggested amendment, they can communicate their thoughts on your suggested changes, and you have a paper trail for your records.
3. Take Time for Self Reflection
Self-awareness is a skill that I see lacking in many leaders – and not just on boards. Being aware of your behaviours and how they are helping or hindering your success is a vital skill for anyone that has to work with other people to achieve goals (i.e. that’s everyone!). This is particularly important in a group where you are all there out of your own volition and no one is the “boss”.
During each meeting be conscious of your actions, what you say and how you say it. Notice other peoples’ reactions to your behaviours, particularly their facial expressions (this is because people are generally nice and won’t call you out directly when they think you’re being a d**k, your only indication will be written all over their face).
Also be aware of other peoples’ temperaments. Their actions, what they say, and how they say it will help inform you on how best to interact with them. Read up on different personality types and learn how to effectively work with them. This also means that you have to be aware of your personality type. Read up on that too. There are a tonne of personality quizzes and tools that you can access to help here (more popular ones include Myer-Briggs, DISC, and Hogan Personality Inventory).
Back to self-awareness. A little ritual that I have incorporated into my post-board meeting drive home is thinking about the meeting, how I think it went (overall how effective we were as a group), my behaviour during the meeting (was it in line with my goals and values; did I enhance the meeting; and did I effectively voice my opinions, thoughts, and concerns), how did other people react to my behaviours; what I did well; and what I need to work on or change for future meetings?
It’s difficult to stand outside of ourselves and accept that we did something counter to our values (often times driven by emotion) and that may have upset someone in the process. I personally get frustrated at myself for being emotionally reactive – I love that I am an emotional person, I don’t love that it makes me behave like a petulant child from time to time. I use that frustration to drive me to take control and make changes that help me be a better team and board member. This takes practice, so do it often.
4. Send Questions Prior to the Meeting
I don’t mean every question you may have, only ones that may you feel the person cannot answer at the top of their mind. Questions that fall into this category can involve:
· Questions on the financial reports (that need the accountant / finance person to answer)
· Questions that involve data analysis
· Questions that involve research
· Questions that involve going through third-parties to get the information
Out of courtesy, give the person a heads-up that you have this question and would like it answered at the meeting. Sending a simple email – copying the Chair – is all that it takes. This also means that you have to read the meeting papers with enough time to gather your questions and send your questions through so that the questionee has time to source the information they need to answer your question. You can still ask questions during the meeting though, so keep that up!
5. Bring New Ideas
This may sound easy; however, it involves a couple of ‘things’ to happen and exist in a person for them to do this.
You have to gather information from a wide variety of sources – either through reading, listening, watching, or a combination of all three. This provides you with the opportunity to:
· Hear different thinking,
· Consider alternative points of view,
· New ideas,
· Trends, and
· Not turn stale by just taking in information that reconfirms your thinking on everything (AKA ‘confirmation bias’).
To bring new ideas and thinking into the boardroom you also need to be comfortable with change; something I love, but have recognised most people do not share my perspective. Being comfortable with the uncomfortable is something that we all must embrace – the pace of change dictates that this is no longer an option.
The ideas that you bring do not need to be revolutionary. They could be suggestions on how to improve internal processes, adopt technological upgrades to save on costs, or how to become an employer of choice. However, if your idea recognises a significant strategic opportunity to exploit, then you most certainly should bring that forward.
The only caveat is that your ideas should be relevant, considered, and potentially adoptable.
How are you tracking with these five director habits? Have you noticed any other habits that help board members outperform and be great assets to a team and organisation?