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Board relationships: what if everyone on your board stopped lying?

Members of operating boards are constantly lying. Not about the business or dodgy behaviour, tho’ they sometimes do, but mostly they lie about themselves.

They are afraid to tell each other who they are and so they lie. All the time. So much so that they don’t realise it. They don’t necessarily have to speak to lie and so most of their lies are silent because those are the easiest to tell.

Logically, they know deep down that their behaviour doesn’t make sense. The success of their business is almost wholly dependent on the quality of their relationships with their fellow directors. Therefore you would think that they would do everything to maximise the quality of those relationships.

And nothing improves the quality of board relationships more than even a small improvement in trust. Trust thrives on truth, not lies. Again, that’s logical.

But when have you known logic to drive board behaviour? I’m regularly staggered by the number of operating board members, ExCom members and function team members I encounter who work together closely for years and years and haven’t a clue about the truth about each other.

By the truth I mean “the truth about the thing”. And we all know what “the thing” is. It’s whatever has caused most pain in one’s life. If ever you have had the privilege, as I have through my work, of hearing about peoples’ deepest pain they often start by saying something like “The thing about me is…”.

Even people who initially protest that they’ve had a halcyon life ultimately admit that it’s not true and that they too have had deep pain of one sort or another. Because pain is at the heart of human existence.

So what has all this to do with improving board relationships and therefore board performance and a sense of fulfilment? The answer is that, as the great philosophers tell us, confronting pain is the gateway to achieving potential or as some people rather elegantly put it: promise.

Promise is a sweet word because it captures both potential and commitment to doing what you say you will do.

So imagine what would happen to your board if everyone on it had the courage to admit their deepest pain thereby creating the possibility of achieving their greatest potential and therefore keeping their promises to be what they can and should be on your board. What’s not to like?

The answer is that some would prefer to chew their own hands off than open up about personal issues to colleagues. Others, more sadly and indeed more frequently, are not connected to their feelings, to a greater or lesser extent.

To them they have nothing to communicate. To them, all this reads like so much mumbo jumbo and psychobabble.

But it isn’t. Fortunately, recent advances in research into emotional intelligence means that the most fervent deniers of the impact of “soft issues” have been outflanked. Work on improving EQ/EI on boards is now, not just commonplace but, mandatory.

In my experience, denial is not the problem. It’s not knowing what to do. The “transformation” obsession in business is the root cause of this “rabbit in the headlight” situation about behavioural change.

Transformation in business is as rare as hens’ teeth. Small changes in behaviour, on the other hand, are not. If facilitated they can lead, in aggregate, to big impacts on outcomes.

At your next post operating board meeting lunch or drinks why not risk telling your colleagues who you really are. What’s the worst that can happen?

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