[Extract from Chapter 9 of Realpolitik “Fixing Broken Boards]
“My hot tip? Mentor the Board – ensure that everyone is on the same page.” [Experienced CEO/entrepreneur]
Only in the later stages of growth with an IPO in mind does the whole There Is Only One True Path For Your Board thing start impacting your poetry. Before that you have freedom. Use it while it lasts! Have a clear vision of the type of Board culture you are trying to create.
If your fairy Godmother appeared now and offered three wishes for your Board what would they be?
What culture do you want? What is its point for you? What is the Board’s purpose in your company? And so forth. What works for one company may not work for another. I’ve laid out a map for you but you have to decide your route that you wish to take within it.
Many drift along without any explicit consideration of Board Culture just “having a Board”. Others simply do what their lawyer told them to do. If so – or any variant on these – one day you might wake up and realise you have an uncultured Board. Or perhaps more precisely implicitly multicultural – not just in terms of roles – Chairman, Angel, VC etc – but in terms of your Boarders’ mentality, attitudes, perspectives, models, implicit understandings of what a Board is. This whole project started precisely as I realised that many Boarders conceive of the Board in many ways.
Although naturally there was much commonality amongst responses to simple questions I did not interview two folks who I thought had identical perspectives. We all have our quirks, our emphases, our lack of interests:
“Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” [Obi-Wan Kenobi]
Having created your vision you should not assume that just because folks are experienced with “Boards” that they know what you are aiming at. We discussed earlier, in the context of the Board’s role in “challenging”, that words may be defined in dictionaries but their usage varies enormously. Thus even if you, the founder/CEO, were to come up with some fine words to describe your desired Board culture this is only half the battle of getting your whole Board enculturated – you might have to explain what you really mean.
Back to the lead-in quote about Board mentoring. This is clearly the Full Monty and might sound a bit rich in an early stage company. However at some point you need to ask yourself the question of whether a football team, even one comprised entirely of superstars, that was never coached as a team would play optimally.
So be cultured!
Be a culture-maker not a culture-taker.