CEOs are often bombarded with little voices in their ear asking, “Am I reaching the best markets?”, “Is my management team capable of taking us to the next level?”, “What about my business model?”, “What changes do I need to make?”, and finally, “Do I have enough money?”. There are only so many hours in a day for a CEO to keep up with everything.
Studies show that 85% of what keeps a CEO up at night is cash flow related. These thoughts often confuse or overwhelm many CEOs. It’s lonely at the top. You don’t have anyone to talk to. It shouldn’t be so hard to run a successful business that is increasing shareholder value.
The best CEOs have figured out that the benefit of a board of directors or, for a smaller business, a personal board of advisors, is critical to their success.
I’ve sat on quite a few boards during my professional career. One stands out from all the rest. I was asked to come on this board because the CEO thought my banking background combined with my experience of running a small business was attractive and diversified his board composition.
This CEO is someone I’ve known professionally for a long time. Trust was established a long time ago and was still evident. He was thoughtful enough to ask me to read a book by Tommy Spalding titled “Heart Led Leader”. The big idea in this book is that “authentic leaders live and lead from the heart and in doing so, transform their teams, organizations, and communities. The values and principles that guide our lives are more important than our title, or our ability to crunch numbers, or the impressive degrees we display on our walls.”
He was signaling to me that the attributes of love, authenticity, and transparency were vital to him, his board, and his management team. They were committed to finding like-minded people with diverse skill sets and backgrounds. Over time, they actively renewed the board as older members rolled off. I was honored that he asked, and I accepted.
This CEO had figured out that board engagement was vital to his success and the success of the company. He was proactive in helping build a board with the right skills, making sure member time is used to the greatest possible effect, and ensuring the boardroom is open, transparent, and effective.
There’s a saying that goes, “trust arrives on foot and leaves on horseback”. However, this CEO was so effective in building relationships with the board that trust arrived on horseback and never left. He is willing to present the good, the bad, and the ugly by choosing to be transparent.
He made a practice of tapping the wisdom of the board on a variety of issues, new board members, and possible acquisition targets. He recognizes that it’s lonely at the top and that sometimes he needs an outside point of view and isn’t afraid to ask.
Finally, this CEO has figured out how to run a great meeting. Board meetings can run long, but he starts on time and ends on time. There is the right amount of the past and present, but not too much. Will Rogers once said, “Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today.” A board should be focusing on the future and identifying initiatives that will drive future success.
This CEO and successful CEOs like him have figured out how to establish and engage a board in capability, relationships, and meetings. A successful CEO knows that TEAM, “Together Everyone Accomplishes More”, is a mindset that drives better performance and high market valuations.