Sexy boards vs Boring boards
This week I had a session with a board that made me reflect on the interactions I have been having with different boards of directors over these years as an entrepreneur. In a 100% empirical way, I have created my own non-academic nomenclature to classify these teams. It doesn’t matter if they run large or small companies, startups or companies with a long history, domestic or international … The fact is that, in my world, there are only Sexy Boards or Boring Boards. There is no in-between.
The Sexy Boards are magnetic and daring teams. They tend to be diverse in gender, background and generation. Many of them are internal promotions or come from working in front line areas, so they are profiles that know the operations very well and live very connected with the client, both internal and external. They are not worried about the status, they are more action oriented than process oriented, they decide quickly and take on responsibilities fearlessly. Right now, their main concerns are linked to how to be more transparent as an organisation, how to make the internal customer feel involved in the company’s decisions, how to help innovate from within, how to make each person bring out their most entrepreneurial side, how to clearly explain the purpose of the organisation so that everyone feels part of it and contributes from their authenticity. Sexy Boards do not live in meeting rooms and their relationships go far beyond the offices on the top floors. They ask questions to internal and external customers, they practice critical thinking not out of posing, but out of conviction and, most importantly, from all of this they get ideas that lead to action. Companies led by a Sexy Board tend to be companies with a very good reputation (real, not sponsored), that move fast, adapt quickly and surf troubled waters without fear.
Boring Boards are mentally old-fashioned teams, disconnected from the operational reality of their companies. More interested in the hard aspects of their respectable positions than in the human aspect of any organisation, everything they know about soft skills comes to them through some Harvard Business Review article or the papers of some prestigious international consulting firm. They have not spoken directly to any of the organisation’s customers (either internal or external) for a long time because their world is limited to their relationships within the board or with people from other boards of similar companies. Their view of the internal customer ranges from pure paternalism (in the best scenarios) to considering people a mere commodity. They never ever consider using an adult-to-adult communication code with operational people and, although they have read a thousand times that operations are the direct link to the end customer, they prefer to talk unilaterally to that end customer through a transactional customer service survey. They are not used to practising critical thinking and tend to think they already know it all, so they listen rather poorly and non-interactively. Their big concern is how to attract sexy talent but, oh surprise, the reality is that Boring Boards generate Boring Companies where there may be software and procedures for everything but where, unfortunately, there is a lack of spark and genuine and authentic communication with the people who are part of the organisation’s community (i.e. the internal and external customer). And that scares anyone away (who is not looking to be bored, of course).
The most interesting thing of all? That being a Sexy or Boring board does not depend on the structure of the company or the industry or sector they belong to. It simply depends on the type of people they are made up of, their purpose and their outlook on life and the organisation. So the Boring Boards have now the chance to leave behind their boring offices, their boring fears and their boring 90s leadership models to embrace a sexier version of themselves and introduce new profiles in their immediate environment that will help them serve their community and move forward without looking back. Surely, when they do it, they will wonder why on earth they haven’t done it before.