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Executive Prajna Image.HEIC

Executive Prajna

  • Ted Rose



Most executives understand that keeping their Board members happy is crucial. But how do you do it?


Not many executives have a lot of experience as Board members. I certainly didn’t when I was running my company. 


But now I’m on the other side of things, serving as a Board member for various organizations. With this new perspective, let me save you some time. Here are four things that all executives who work with Boards should understand:


  1. We crave truth. I spent a lot of time trying to put the positive spin on items for my Board. This is natural and human. We all want to be seen in a good light and this goes double for the people that can fire us or set our compensation. But most of us serving on Boards have been in your shoes. We understand that running an organization isn’t easy and that there are plenty of headwinds. I feel better when the executive acknowledges the challenges plainly and directly and doesn’t make me hunt for them. 

  2. We cherish our time. When I ran Board meetings, I felt that long, substantive meetings were crucial to winning the confidence of my Board. I’ve seen through that strategy quickly on the other side. As a board member, I want to be helpful, but I also want to be efficient. By definition, this isn’t my main gig. Keeping an item or a meeting short can be a sign of confidence and trust. Same goes with the preparatory materials. The Goldilocks rule applies: not too little, but not too much.

  3. We are relational. Over indexing on the last lesson, however, can create a different problem: Boards can become too transactional. As a Board member, I’m generally not serving primarily to satisfy a personal financial interest or even an intellectual curiosity. First and foremost, I want to be helpful. I am drawn to the executives running the organization and feel a desire to support them. And while I’m not really looking for new friends and colleagues, I’m open to developing deeper relationships with the other Board members as well. I used to resent the amount of time and money my company put into Board dinners and the like, but now I see those as important investments. The deeper relationships on your board with executives and between the members are an asset for you as the executive. You may need them for hard times. 

  4. We want functional communication. If relationships can save Boards, dysfunctional dynamics can sink them. So pay attention to how your Board meetings are running: who is speaking a lot, how are conversations happening. Nothing makes me want to leave a meeting quicker than conversations dominated by a couple loud talking know-it-alls. As the executive, you have the opportunity (and the obligation) to make sure that the Board itself is working effectively, not just efficiently. I wouldn’t hesitate to bring in a good outside facilitator to handle a tricky topic or simply run a session about how we want to treat each other as Board members. This work, like individual relationships, can be the thing that makes the difference between success and failure when you encounter tough times.


In Buddhist training, I was taught that students should take care to fluff their teachers’ pillows. And this isn't a selfless offering. It is understood that if the teacher is comfortable, she is more likely to offer the best teachings.


Same applies in the Board room.



Exercise: Find a comfortable seat and relax. Set a timer for 10 minutes and turn off your notifications. Take a few deep settling breaths. 


Now imagine that you are a Board member for an organization unrelated to the one you are working for. Imagine getting Board materials a week or a few days before your meeting. Ask yourself: How much detail do you want in these materials? What do you need to feel comfortable showing up to the meeting?


Now imagine you are in the meeting. You are listening to the executive and she is discussing a business challenge. How do you want her to be speaking to you right now? Imagine she’s trying to assure you that everything is fine. How does that feel? Now imagine that she is collapsing and admitting that she has no idea what to do. How does that feel? Imagine how you would like to hear her speak about this issue.


For extra credit, you can imagine sitting through the following scenarios as a Board member and noticing how each feels in your body:


  • A 60 minute meeting is entering its second hour and the executive hasn’t acknowledged the time and you see no signs of stopping.

  • One board member is dominating a conversation, while three other members have not spoken but are fidgeting and exchanging glances..

  • You are listening to an executive who is getting defensive about questions being posed to her. 


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