The Number #1 Pain Point for Many CEOs Today is Their Board

This is the first of a new series of blog posts on coaching CEOs to create a high performance board. If things work out as planned, this might become an e book (or even a book). The idea resulted when a friend, George, who is the CEO of a Fortune 100 company, asked me if I would help him create a high performance board.

For years I had been talking to CEO’s about their leadership style, strategy, enterprise breakthrough project, etc. This was like trying to sell CEOs with their big egos vitamins, a nice to have for your health perhaps but not something most saw as essential.

As I was to discover with George and other CEOs, talking about my CEO and board services was a completely different story. As George put it, “Dealing with my board is the single biggest headache I have.” It was obvious that help offered here would be like an aspirin, not a “nice to have” but a “got to have” to make the headache go away.

George got to the crux of the issue that many CEOs face today regardless of the industry when he told me, “I am under pressure from Wall Street to grow my business and grow it faster. Yet doing so involves doing innovative things, and taking risks that are unacceptable to the board.”

George pointed out that, given the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (a law passed which said that board members can go to jail for various improprieties that happen on their watch) many corporate boards have started to show up like “control freaks.”

The balance between allowing a business genius (like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, or even a Jeff Immelt) to pursue an impossible dream with game-changing potential and good governance and risk avoidance has been lost. Today, many board members act more like IRS auditors looking over one’s shoulder then like business people.

George explained that part of the reason he was bringing me in was my reputation as a coach for helping companies pursue an Impossible Future while delivering on economic performance. “We need to shift the balance,” he said, “and I think your influence will help.”

Another area where George wanted help was transforming the board. He wanted to create a high performance board vs. a dysfunctional one. He explained that the board room narrative tended to be focused on problems vs. possibilities. He also said that board members were not connected in a good way, which led to all kinds of other problems.

To me George had taken a major step in transforming his board just in contacting me…reaching out and asking for help. All groups, even those run by brainy CEOs and smart people, are prone to group dynamics. It’s very difficult for a CEO who is part of the dysfunctional group to change the group dynamics without some kind of outside intervention. We arranged another conversation where I could find out more about what was going on with the board.

Have a story of your interactions with your board? I’d love to hear it. More to come….


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