Common Boardroom Blunders of Novices
BY Ralph Ward
No one likes to be the new kid on the block, especially since it offers so many ways to make a fool of yourself. The boardroom is an even trickier venue for the novice, with endless opportunities to embarrass the unwary. What are the most common boardroom blunders that could mark you as a governance amateur?
" The first sign is stopping and asking about everything -- but another is being afraid to ask anything," says John Gorman, a partner with the Luse Lehman and Gorman law firm who works extensively in new director orientation. " The new director has to find a route in between. You don' t want to be a silent partner for any period of time, but you have to use discretion to make your input without things grinding to a halt." The new board member needs to be a quick study, but if you' ve gotten to this level, it' s likely that you already are.
You' ve been named to this board in part for the past skills you' ve gained, but " be careful not to overdo the references to your prior experience," warns Gorman. " If you keep saying that this is the way we do things at my company, you can turn off the other board members." Instead, let the savvy you' ve gained outside the boardroom shape specific suggestions that target the situation at hand.
To prevent novice boardroom mistakes, the new director should seek out (or the board should assign) a buddy to provide one-on-one director feedback and advice. Carter McNamara, president of Authenticity Consulting, which handles extensive boardwork, suggests assigning this mentor and then " at the end of the board meeting, he should set aside a few minutes to talk with the new director, critiquing his performance." If the new kid is making errors, McNamara advises not isolating the individual, but making his or her problem a cause for overall board support. " What I see working best is for the board chair to treat the new member' s problem as a overall board problem."
Also, McNamara advises making a general " postgame review" of the board' s meeting a standard coda to every meeting. Even a few minutes of general discussion on how things went can not only uncover unspoken problems, but also gently hint to all involved at their solutions.