The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Directors

Written by on November 2, 2015 in Board Effectiveness with 3 Comments

Upland Consulting Seven Habits Book (joke)Seven Habits that Make for Effective Directorship

The late Stephen Covey published The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People in 1989.  It’s a long-term best-seller on the business and personal growth lists, and it’s still in print.  There’s nothing dated about the penetrating analysis he derived from long research, deep thinking, and his own consulting practice.  It’s a book I still turn to in moments of perplexity.

The essential insight that illuminates Covey’s work is that effectiveness comes from within.  Technique and skill matter, no question; but without the foundation of personal effectiveness, without the hard work on our own mental blinkers and chains, technique and skill just build us a house of cards.

Trading shamelessly on Covey’s memorable title, can we list seven habits for highly effective board directors?  I think so.  My list would go like this:

1. Take Responsibility

The performance of any board we serve on is a responsibility we share with the other directors and the chairman.  If the board is being led by the nose, is wasting time, is majoring in the minors, or is headed for a train wreck, it’s our job as a member to speak up, take action, accept the challenge.  We are not there to go along with the prevailing mood or to be popular.

2. Be Mindful of our Duties

For-purpose or for-profit, our duties as directors are very clear and essentially the same: act in the best interests of the whole company or organisation; inform ourselves fully and exercise due diligence in framing our decisions; avoid conflicts of interest.

3. Leave our Profession at the Door

We may be excellent managers, lawyers, marketers, accountants, technologists, whatever.  But our job as directors is to be excellent directors.  It’s a different mind-set and a different skillset.

4. Let Management Manage

The board’s job is not to manage the organisation.  It appoints a CEO for that.  Have a written delegation of authority that mandates the CEO and her colleagues to get on with their job.  Monitor, don’t meddle.  If a board is not constantly aware of the “green line” between board and management, and of the costs of crossing it, management will be hamstrung, frustrated and inclined to practise avoidance.

5. Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood

This is Covey’s number 5 also, and there’s no way I can better it.  It’s that simple.  A board seat is not a soap-box.  How can you get your point of view across if you haven’t first truly understood the other one?  Board work is individual in responsibility, but collegial in outcome, so each decision needs to be one each of us can support.

6. Disagree Constructively

The point of a disagreement is not for one side or the other to prevail.  The point is for the whole board to arrive at a better, clearer position than it started with.  There is every chance that, in the process, we’ll have to drop or modify the view we brought into the room.  It takes courage and good will.

7. Maintain Balance

The critical thing a board should contribute is balanced good judgement.  Balance is the paramount skill of highly effective directors.  It doesn’t mean sitting on the fence – it means keeping up a watchful, dynamic adjustment amongst competing interests, stakeholders, risks, opportunities and points of view.

That’s my list of seven habits.  What would yours be?

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  1. Rod says:

    Iain your “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Directors” is great.

    My comment is based on over 30 years experience that I have as a Director in commercial and non-commercial organisations with 20 of those as executive, non executive and independent Chairmanship roles.

    I look forwards to your take on the “Seven Habits of the Highly effective Chairperson”

  2. Iain says:

    Thank you, Rod. I really appreciate your feedback. And I’ll put your suggestion on the list for a future article.


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