Some thoughts on the leadership role of Boards of Directors:
I have been told of a lovely Hebrew word ‘ruach’ which, translated, talked to me of the power of the human spirit, of wind, of sailing and of soaring. It talked to me of human potential, of positive willing human energy with all its possibilities. Learn how to harness it and humans can really fly.
With a jet ski – fast and noisy, greedy for precious petrol – our strategic horizons are limited to a few kilometres.
But on a yacht we catch the wind in our sails and we can circle the world three times for nothing.
In a car – however expensive, with speed limits and bounds of safety – our strategic horizons are a few hundred kilometres a day.
When we use the free lift that air gives us when we fly, we can travel to the other end of the world … and back.
Our possibilities are unlimited, endless, infinite…
– With wind when we set our sails
– With the lift we get from air when we tip our wings
– With boundless human energy, ‘ruach’, human spirit
When the fuel is power – the power one has over another, our horizons are near and the costs are high.
If this somewhat lyrical proposition is true and we believe implicitly that it can be proven, then what is the leadership role of a Board?
Most importantly it must do all that it can to ensure that the craft is a yacht and not a jet ski, that it is an aeroplane and not a car. And, if it is a yacht, that it has an auxiliary motor for “in case”.
And it must be seaworthy and airworthy. And the skipper or the captain and his crew must truly understand wind, airlift and human spirit.
All that, in our definition, is leading.
Is that all?
Unfortunately the answer is NO. We have a management role too. We have to be sure that all the passengers – the stakeholders – are aboard and comfortable. Since moving creates risk, and weather conditions are not always favourable, we have to ensure that all the serious risks are adequately covered – life-belts, lifeboats, parachutes, and marine insurance.
Sadly, but realistically, we have to acknowledge that even good experienced skippers make mistakes, take excessive risks and dangerous short cuts, and even cheat on the answers they give.
All this is called good corporate governance. We call it management.
A Board, which is truly leading and managing, is a good Board and deserves the fees it earns.
We use a lovely piece of anonymous poetry, adapted slightly.
When I reach the edge of all the light in my life and I step out into the darkness beyond, I need to know one of two things:
Either you will have created a safe place upon which I can stand,
Or you will have taught me how to fly
… or both
A Board that has created the rock of good corporate governance that is well managed, and leaders who encourage the team to fly, has done an almost legendary job.