Become a valuable part of the Board room — tips for Directors on the Board:
Ask how you can add more value. To become a key contributor to meetings, meet with the Chairman/CEO and other directors and ask how you can best add value, both within as well as outside of the boardroom. This demonstrates a tangible interest in finding out what their needs are. Also the front-foot approach provides the opportunity to be more clued in to individuals’ agendas, points of view and puts challenges in perspective.
Aim to shift from didactic to dialogue. Think of the meeting more as mediation than winners and losers. Appreciate that each participant will have diverse experiences and perspectives and encourage them to share opinions. Speaking up in this manner will foster greater understanding and draw out each individual’s contribution.
Encourage open dialogue with comments like, “What I am about to share with you are my thoughts. Let’s explore these ideas together and discover what we can come up with as a team, drawing on the shared intelligence and wisdom of our collective.”
This is more inclusive, fosters the multiplicity of brainstorming with shared co-operation, and demonstrates humility. This style shifts the focus from: how can I get the board to take on my view, to: How can I create context to engage each director’s full potential and inspired leadership.
Be valuable outside the boardroom. Attend staff training and inductions. Have lunch with various employees. Spend time in the office, site, shop or factory floor. Take the role of the customer as a ‘mystery-shopper’ and participate in the company experience as a customer would. This serves to filter expertise through a lens of experience which you wouldn’t have otherwise. Follow traditional, digital and social media in relation to the company and its competitors.
Be mindful of the physical position of your body at the board table. By sitting slightly askew, at a gentle angle from the Chair rather than face-to-face, tension is eased and focus is softened. This position stimulates co-operation and harmony in communication, in contrast to sitting directly in front of the Chair, looking straight into their eyes, which may be confrontational.
Use colour to shift your tone of voice – literally. Use a highlighter when preparing your notes eg: Red – initiation; Yellow – illuminating; Grey – conflicts and difficulties; Brown – muddy dark areas; Blue — soothing and calming; Purple – change and transformation; Green: kind and heartful; Orange – sustainable and continued growth. This way you will know by just glancing at your notes, the tone and posture to appropriately adopt before you speak.
Agree is the first thing to do in a conflict situation. Acknowledge the point being made in a positive way. “That was a powerful point and very insightful.” Once you have given support, then ask how the issue could be better managed. “What I liked about your points was (abc). Is there a way this could possibly be done better with (xzy)? Avoid being confrontational, instead practice being invitational.
Ensure you are heard. Practice empowerment exercises. Identify three key words that summarise your strengths and connect your voice, tones and gestures to these words. As you become more familiar with ‘being in a high-performance zone,’ this practice will eliminate negative self talk before speaking. If you are quietly spoken or perceived as meek, this is a useful springboard to influence.
Meet with the facilitator well before the meeting to encourage buy-in and ensure your issue is on the agenda. Don’t wait for the meeting to add a new issue. If there isn’t room on the agenda ask for a special break out space or request an addendum be created.
If you have a particular issue to bring up that is delicate, fragile or sensitive, your Example will be more easily heard when you show how this specifically applies to the group, and when you back up your point by a Principle that includes everybody and that everyone can agree with. This is the Wohlman P.E.A. formula, developed to encourage the full Cycle of Communication. The essence of how this works is to make it a practice to reinforce each Point with one Example and one Application, before moving on to the next point.
Avoid the urge to fidget, play with pencils, tap fingers or mobiles. Eliminate sudden gestures or distracting behaviour like touching hair or rings. When speaking and listening, explore ways to be so fully present that your movements and gestures are in concert with the points being shared.
Use physicality to punctuate the meeting. When you or one of the other board members says “Let’s go to the next point,” this is a perfect moment to consciously punctuate the transition from one point to the next. Shift your body, take a sip of water, allow your eyes to scan and make contact with others in the conversation. Strive to be part of a collaborative concert. Every sound, every gesture, is part of the communication. Every nuance, every movement matters. Make different gestures to naturally initiate or conclude a point. Raise the bar of what is conscious in the meeting and be aware of people’s movement patterns. Congruent movements match, mirror and maintain the flow, rhythm and themes of the co-created conversation.
Biting fingernails, tapping and idiosyncrasies are distracting habits, as is sneezing and coughing and clearing the throat – all of which is annoying. If you have to fidget – take it outside. Come back focussed. People often are not aware that they are a distraction. Aim to be still together. Every word, sound and movement affects the group dynamic.
We’re all different, bizarre and unique. Have a pre-meeting meeting to share idiosyncrasies with each other. “When I am processing information I lower my head, close my eyes. I learn best by writing. I have an injury, and feel relief and more present after stretching my back.” Bring quirks to the pre- meeting to pre-empt idiosyncratic behaviour so it can be respected and accommodated.
In summary, Dr Gary Wohlman says, “Make your movements conscious, and watch your meeting go from bumbling to brilliant”.