Often when people approach me to improve their communication skills, they are looking for tips and tricks to improve their charisma. It is much more powerful to work over the long term to develop your character as a leader.

Character is formed over many, many years as you work to remove the pieces that are not part of who you want to be. Character is chiselled out of the rock, slowly removing all the dirt and excess before revealing the statue below.

  • Charisma is “compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others”. (on wikipedia)
  • Character is “an individual’s stable moral qualities. The concept of character can imply a variety of attributes including the existence or lack of virtues such as empathy, courage, fortitude, honesty, and loyalty, or of good behaviors or habits.” (on wikipedia)

This post describes Corporate Boards –

  1. What do they do?
  2. How do I join one? and
  3. What are my responsibilities as a Director?

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A board of directors is a body of elected or appointed members who jointly oversee the activities of a company or organization, which can include a non-profit organization or a government agency or corporation.  In a stock corporation, the board is elected by the shareholders and is the highest authority in the management of the corporation. The board of directors appoints the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the corporation and sets out the overall direction for the company.

What does the Board do?

herman-daemsProfessor Herman Daems is teaching today on the IESE Advanced Management Program.  His course is “The role of the Board of Directors in Evaluating and Selecting the Strategy”.  Dr Herman Daems is professor at University of Leuven and visiting professor at Harvard Business School, and currently he is the Chairman of the Board at BNP Paribas Fortis SA/NV.  He has been part of many public, private and charitable boards over his career.

I wrote a few notes as I sat at the back of the classroom.  What does the board actually do?

  • Develop an Ambition for the Company – an ambition is not a strategy.  An ambition might be to “Climb Everest”.  A strategy would be the specific path to gather the necessary resources and execute the climb of the mountain.
  • Find the Leadership to develop a Strategy to realise the ambition – management must develop strategy.
  • Approve a strategy – Important to be clear that a board does not make the strategy, only approve that the leadership’s strategy supports the Company Ambition.
  • Provide Resources (Financial and Human) – importantly the board establishes the dividend policy
  • Balance the Power of Differing Interests (shareholders, management, employees, government, public) – board members must have general business experience.  Specialist members do not make good board members.  Board must make collective general business decisions, not just good specific decisions.  Individual members must have credibility and be willing to raise their hand and make an impact.
  • Monitor and Control Strategy – the board plays a much greater role on controlling strategy than on deciding the strategy.  Management will rarely say that their strategy is not working.  This is where the board is really necessary.
  • Control the use of Resources, control the risks involved – see next item…
  • Assume responsibility for the actions and risks of the company – The Board of Directors have “collective responsibility” for the actions and risks of the company.  Members are not personally responsible.  Some legal attempts to hold a finance expert or an audit committee member personally responsible have always been pushed back by courts on the basis that board is collective responsibility.  In banking crisis, some executives have been held personally responsible, but in no cases have board members been found personally responsible.

 

How do you get onto a Board?

“People often ask me ‘I’d like to make a change in my career and play a role as a board member.’  I first ask how much money they are making now.  I don’t want your role as a board director to be the significant source of income for your life.  If you are dependent on this income, you are not going to be a good director.” Herman Daems

In most countries, board members can be fired at will.  You do not want to depend on this income.

There are 5 specific reasons why you might be appointed to the board of a company:

  • You represent a shareholder or stakeholder of the company – you represent a reference shareholder, a private equity company, a venture capitalist, a strategic owner
  • You bring specific knowhow or capabilities to the board – technological, financial, market knowledge, legal
  • You bring a specific experience – you are a former CEO or a director in other companies
  • You have a reputation for reliability, independence; you bring reputation to the company – …also you are always contactable (crisis happens on Sundays, board is like fire service…  emergencies happen)
  • You have access to a relevant network for the company

 

What is your role on the Board?

  • It is important to find an equilibrium between the interest you represent and the company interests.  A board member is responsible to all stakeholders.  Take into account the specific traditions, structures, culture of this board.
  • Come well prepared
  • Ask questions, be critical… but solution oriented.  Directors who are always critical start to lose engagement with management.
  • Do not get stuck into details (do not become a shadow executive) – do not try to prove how smart, wise you are
  • Be aware of your legal and societal responsibilities
  • Speak your mind
  • Be courageous, remain friendly

Further Reading

This is a guest post from Riya Sander.  Riya is an overseas teacher. She has spent her past 5 years teaching in Thailand, Malaysia and Philippines.

All too often, I hear adults tell children to simply “do the right thing”.  

This is not enough.  We need to help children figure out:

  1. what is the right thing or
  2. how to decide what is right.

Teaching in various schools, in various countries, I’ve seen a wide range of responses: from completely ignoring ethics to teaching ethical decision making at all levels of the school curriculum.

Some parents ask if ethics and education belong together. Ethics are the shared values of a given group or culture. There are some ethical values that are widely shared, and others that vary widely depending on the local culture. This is one of the conflicts that children must be taught about.

Not just “It is Wrong”, but Why is it Wrong?

photo: Riya Sander
photo: Riya Sander

One ethics teacher, Alyssa Kelly, described teaching ethics this way: “The emphasis is not on moral instruction but on finding reasons why something might be right or wrong.” Instead of teaching students what is right or wrong, ethics courses for primary school students focus on teaching them how to decide for themselves what is right or wrong.

Students are faced with challenging social situations on a regular basis. Not every moral instruction can be blindly applied to every situation. When I ask my students if it’s okay to lie, they respond “no” in unison every time, in every class, regardless of what country I was teaching in. The nuances of “right” and “wrong” are more subtle when students have to choose between the lesser of two evils.

Ethical Decisions are Never Black and White

I once had a female student whose friend was contemplating suicide. The suicidal girl told her friend what she was thinking of doing to herself, but asked her not to tell anyone. She asked her friend to keep her plans a secret. The friend, my student, was distraught. Someone was in danger, but she was asked to keep that danger a secret. Thanks to her ethics classes, she was able to reason her way through the situation. She later told me that, although she felt bad about breaking her promise to keep her friend’s secret, the resulting intervention and the fact that the broken promise helped to save her friend’s life was worth it. The suicidal girl was angry at the time, but became very thankful to her friend after therapy.

Ethical choices apply to what students say as well. With the growth of social media and its use earlier and earlier by students, we do them a great service by teaching them how to make ethical decisions about what to do and what to say before they reach the quagmire of social media. An acronym I frequently use with my students, which fits well in the ESL curriculum, is before you post/write/speak, THINK. Consider these factors: is what you’re about to say True, Helpful, Informative, Necessary, and Kind. We then discuss what these words mean to each of us. Students always enjoy the play on words: they learn about thinking, and each of those factors requires serious personal thought.

Did you T.H.I.N.K.?

“Sitting in a circle listening to other people is a skill set that many adults could benefit from.” Alyssa Kelly

Once we’ve learned this acronym, students often help each other remember what to do: “May, did you THINK before you said that to Kai?” This is one of the great benefits of having these kids talk through questions that make them think. As teacher Alyssa Kelly said, “Sitting in a circle listening to other people is a skill set that many adults could benefit from.”

One of the keys to this type of program is starting early. The earlier primary school students start to learn about how to think through ethical questions, the easier it will be for them. Skills learned early in life are foundational. This type of problem solving will lead to greater skill in more and more complicated problems that students will encounter later in life.

The Benefits of Early Ethical Education

Ethics and education go hand in hand. In addition to teaching children facts and figures, teaching ethics begins to lay the groundwork of metacognition: thinking about how we think. If we can help them develop an awareness of how they think about things and how they make value decisions early in life, we set them up to make better choices throughout their lives as well as preparing them for higher level thinking that will be of great use later in their education.

About the Author: Riya Sander is an overseas teacher. She holds a master’s degree from Australia Institute of Business & Technology. She has spent her past 5 years teaching in ESL countries i.e. Thailand, Malaysia and Philippines. She currently works for Point to Point Education, a dynamic education recruitment company.

It is imagination that makes humans unique in nature.

Genetically we differ 2% from chimpanzees and 3% from worms. It is not our genes that have us living in penthouses and connecting on facebook.

Our difference is the human cortex, the layer of brain that is most highly developed in humans.  The cortex is where we begin to live intentionally. We have a choice.  We don’t have to just respond to the world, but can begin to imagine a better world and thus plan and act accordingly.

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The unique gift of humanity is reason, the ability to solve problems in the mind.

What is the Purpose of Human Life?

2,300 years ago in the Greek city-state of Athens, Aristotle asked himself “what is the purpose of human life?” Aristotle defined the purpose of an object as being that which it can uniquely do.

A human is alive – but plants are also alive – so that cannot be human purpose.

A human feels – but animals also feel – so that cannot be human purpose.

The unique gift of humanity is reason, the ability to solve problems in the mind: to imagine solutions before putting them into practice.

Aristotle concludes the Nicomachean Ethics with a discussion of the highest form of happiness: a life of intellectual contemplation. Reasoned imagination is the highest virtue.

Leadership Requires Imagination

A leader must see a future that is not yet here. The clearer you can see and touch and feel this potential future the more compellingly you can communicate it to others.  The more you practice your imagination, the better you will get.  How can you practice your imagination?

How can you develop your imagination? Here are some ways:

  • Spend time bored.
  • Read fiction. Write a new ending to a classic book. Make a hero into a villain, and a hero into a villain. Write yourself into the book.
  • Throw photos on the floor and then explain the connection between them.
  • Watch TV in another language and explain to a friend what is happening.
  • List 10 small improvements you could make to the seat you are sitting on.
  • Tell bedtime stories to your children…  let them create the characters as you go.
  • Develop 2×2 matrix on an area of interest… and develop scenarios for changing positions.
  • Go to an ethnic restaurant and order something you have never had before.
  • Go to a railroad station or airport and take the first train or plane to depart.
  • Imagine a world without oil, cars, telephones, internet… fill in the blank…

What other ways can we develop our imagination?

 

De duodecim abusivis saeculi “On the Twelve Abuses of the World” is a self-help book written by an Irish author between 630 and 700AD.  You could say that it was the earliest precursor to Steven Covey, Brian Tracy or Jim Rohn.

The work was widely propagated throughout Europe by Irish missionaries in the 8th century. Its authorship was often attributed to Saint Patrick (the general view today is that it was not his work).

Duodecim abusivis saeculi

De duodecim condemns the following twelve abuses:

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*Collectio Canonum Hibernensis
  1. the wise man without works; sapiens sine operibus
  2. the old man without religion; senex sine religione
  3. the young man without obedience; adolescens sine oboedientia
  4. the rich man without charity; dives sine elemosyna
  5. the woman without modesty; femina sine pudicitia
  6. the nobleman without virtue; dominus sine virtute
  7. the argumentative Christian; Christianius contentiosus
  8. the proud pauper; pauper superbus
  9. the unjust king; rex iniquus
  10. the neglectful bishop; episcopus neglegens
  11. the community without order; plebs sine disciplina
  12. the people without a law; populus sine lege

Background

This form of document is part of a broad category of medieval literature called “Mirrors for Princes”.  They were developed to educate future kings in the leadership qualities that would be needed in their role as king.  The best known of these works is The Prince by Machiavelli.

Communities are Conservative, Business is Progressive

"J S Mill and H Taylor" by http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:J_S_Mill_and_H_Taylor.jpghttp://www.nzz.ch/aktuell/feuilleton/uebersicht/freiheit-und-gleichberechtigung--der-erste-band-ausgewaehlter-werke-john-stuart-mills-1.18025974#. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:J_S_Mill_and_H_Taylor.jpg#mediaviewer/File:J_S_Mill_and_H_Taylor.jpg
John Stewart Mill and H Taylor, they thought deeply about these questions of society, freedom, markets, power in the 1800s.  Photo licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons 

There is an inherent conflict between communities and companies.  Communities (family, neighbourhood, tradition) try to maintain stability.  Companies are driven by the nature of the capitalism market system to innovate and change. (See Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” on wikipedia) .

Stability vs Destruction

Companies close their factories and replace deeply experienced craft men with young computer geeks who can build the model inside a CAD/CAM system.  Companies move accounts payable from outside of town, to outside of the continent and 25 middle managers who have spent 25 years working in accounts no longer have a workplace to go to.  The community is hit by this loss of incomes and hope.

What is the right balance between Creative Destruction (Capitalism) and Stability (Community)?

This may be a moot question – Creative Destruction is an international, intercontinental force.  A community has little power to decide “we will step outside of this cycle”.

Europe is facing this on a brutal scale.  These two forces are pulling the euro project in many directions, testing political will, raising emotions.  Karl Marx predicted that capitalist society would come to this point – debasement of the money supply (otherwise known as Quantitative Easing), greater and greater proportion of profit going to the owners of capital (not labour), monopolistic tendency in industries.  His view was that capitalism would inevitably collapse under its own success.

Community has provided the softening balance that has kept capitalism from collapsing under its own successes.  However we face an intense conflict.  We don’t have free markets, we have crony capitalism.  The banks that should have failed, were not allowed to fail.  The bankers at the center of the capitalism disaster turned to community to save themselves – and community did.

Capitalism is needed to innovate, but Community is needed to soften the harsh blows and to save capitalism from its own failings.

Changing and Caring

  • Entrepreneurship is needed in society, in public service, in schooling as much as it is needed in business.  The modern world needs a continual updating mechanism – otherwise our nation will be left behind.  We have found no other comparable mechanism than the market to continually improve products, services and people (evolution is a sort of market mechanism).
  • Society needs a balancing function.  The brutal consequences of competition – loss of jobs, loss of value of skills, unemployment, increasing cost of debt servicing…  need people who can support us in tough moments.

This conflict is always going to be there.  Society wants stability.  Global markets force change.

How can society cope with the ever increasing speed of global change?  What happens when companies innovate fast?  How can we help communities accommodate the increased pace of change?

It is Messy, isn’t it

I don’t have any simple answers.  I am currently taking the course “Moral Foundations of Political Systems” on Coursera with Yale Professor Ian Shapiro.  Over the past 5 weeks we have moved through Enlightenment, to Utilitarianism, to Marxism and this week onto Social Contract theory.  I love several moments in the course where Shapiro asks a simple question to the partipants…  they give a go at what seems a simple enough question…  and then he smiles and says “it is messy, isn’t it.  You can’t take the politics out of human decisions.”