Managing bad behaviour in the boardroom and mitigating against the risk of ‘power abuse’ can be challenging for any leadership.
Power will never be an easy matter to discuss. As Plato said “The measure of a man is what he does with power.” (And ditto for the measure or a powerful woman too, I presume.)
However the danger in today’s organisation is that by the time we have such a measure the damage has too often been done.
A recent report by MWM Consulting highlights the risks of allowing the overly narcissistic to get a foot hold in the boardroom.
Naturally any organisation would prefer a strong leader with ambition and drive, but the corridors of power are paved with fine lines and it’s easy to stray over them if one is too bold.
We’ve all seen the movies and heard the horror stories when the powerful become drunk on the fumes. From ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ to ‘The Smartest Guys in the Room’, the tremendous fall from the very summit of success makes the bad guys of big business fine panto villains.
We can all see with hindsight how their over confidence, self assured nature and risk taking drive pushed them over the edge, but we must also remember that it was precisely their confidence, self assurance and drive that got them to the top in first place.
MWM’s report was based on interviews drawn from some 2300 years of business experience, from over 400 boards in 21 countries and their findings make fascinating reading.
The report uses the anecdotal evidence not only to form a picture of abuse at the top, but also offers five viable preventative steps to halt future negative behaviour.
1. Prevention over cure.
Once corrosion begins it is more difficult to change. Begin at appointment. Have the shadow of narcissism firmly in your headlights before you even appoint your new CEO. Be honest with your new CEO from the start. Once you have established that there is a risk, highlight the warning signs from the get go. Set cast iron ground rules. While your new CEO is negotiating his remuneration packages et al, make sure the board are able to act in the event Rome begins to burn.
2. Building the Right Board.
The report found that organisations with strong board foundations comprising independent directors and a strong Chairman were best able to act against rogue CEOs.
3. Develop Effective Antennae.
Even with the right foundations, a strong board needs to be able to identify the warnings. All the members must know what to look for and the chairman needs to have real eyes on the ground and be connected to the relevant staff.
4. Behavioural Risk Needs to be a Regular on the Agenda.
To be able to tackle the problems as they arise the board can’t risk the spectre of ‘shock’ rearing it’s ugly head. Therefore behavioural risks need to be assessed from the very start and supported by regular Director-only meetings on the issue. Additionally the CEO must agree to rigorous and regular reviews.
5. There can be no Barriers to Succession.
Forget plan A. The Board must have a definable strategy in place in the event of leadership change. The Evidence collated by the report suggested that a key indicator of behavioural risk was a lack of succession planning. It’s far easier for a board to act if the company has a plan B or C or even D.
Finally, a vitally important point I was surprised not to find mentioned in the report: How executive coaching provides highly effective ways to keep boardroom behaviour in check. Whether it’s a singular abuse of unfettered power, an overly dominant ego or a collective tendency to be destructive or delusional, boardroom coaching interventions are key to keeping these unhealthy and unproductive elements of workplace culture at bay.
CoachDirectors executive coaches are often brought in by boards to help refine the leadership styles of CEOs and their teams, to assist in onboarding new senior executives, or to help build a company-wide coaching culture. We know how rare (and valuable) authentic and challenging feedback can be at the top. When executives reach a certain level, there are fewer people prepared to give them advice – particularly from within the company – so the unbiased input of a professional coach can be critical.
Even the most powerful of board directors have blind spots and could use the constructive feedback of a coach to further leverage their already-gifted minds. What better way to demonstrate best practice to the rest of the organisation than to expose one’s own behaviour to such healthy scrutiny?