Every board has a unique cultural style and operating rhythm which means that to be effective new board members need to understand how the new environment works and adjust their approach to ensure their opinions are heard. Successful directors know how to influence. They know how to get things done through other people and are aware of the environment in which they are operating.
Their influence is measured and appropriate, with a focus on engaging with and consulting others to secure understanding and insight to ultimately ensure issues are effectively assessed, digested and managed.
Assess the landscape
This starts with assessing the landscape by understanding who sits around the board table, who influences whom, how decisions are made, and the cultural factors that impact how issues are debated and decided. This base level of understanding is critical to then be able to identify the best avenues to pursue to influence outcomes. Take the time to meet your fellow board members one-on-one and strive to build rapport and connection with them. Seek to discover their background, experience and the skills they bring to the table, as well as their areas of focus, concern and interest.
First impressions matter
Professor Frank Bernieri of Oregon State University has found we assess people relatively quickly when we first meet them. In the 7 – 15 seconds we take to assess someone, we use ‘thin slices’ of data to determine if we like them, trust them, and want to work with or do business with them.
This assessment is made on a raft of factors. It might be a glance, their handshake, what they wear, their demeanour, whether they maintain eye contact and how they smile. You are on show at your first board meeting, and when you first meet your fellow directors. Success is more than just being prepared. It’s being present, timely, focused, articulate and prepared to sit back and listen, and ask questions at the most appropriate time. Everything you do and say (and don’t do and don’t say), to how you dress and your posture will affect your level of impact.
Find what needs to change
Boards are operating in complex and ever-changing environments. To effectively lead in such an environment, directors need to firstly understand themselves and then be open to shifting their mindset, operating style and behaviour to suit the context of the new environment. Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, who have studied why many crucial change efforts fail, found that one of the core problems is the gap between what is required and a leader’s own level of development.
In their book, How the way we talk can change the way we work, they state: “…it may be nearly impossible for us to bring about any important change in a system or organisation without changing ourselves (at least somewhat)…”
As you start working in a new environment be open to what may need to change in you for you to be at your best and most effective.
Ready your mindset
This goes beyond pinpointing new technical director skills. It’s about delving into the mindset you are applying. Letting assumptions drive your thought processes, and ultimately behaviour, can negatively impact your decision making and interactions with new board members and stakeholders.
In a new environment, there is much to learn from listening and observing. By applying a growth mindset, rather than a fixed mindset, you’ll be more ready to embrace the learning and better positioned to influence outcomes and navigate the inevitable complexity and ambiguity that arises in a boardroom.
Build your knowledge base
Directors are appointed to a board because of a specific skill set and expertise. Do your homework so you are able to contextualise and apply that knowledge in this environment. This better enables you to speak with authority and credibility. As part of this, continuously undertake personal and professional development. If you want to be at the top of your game you need to be abreast of the latest thinking and ideas from your industry, profession and areas of expertise. Ideas quickly change and it’s crucial to stay relevant.
Written by Michelle Gibbings.
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