Expert view: Boards must focus on what is right

Exceptional governance can take its inspiration from the words of Martin Luther King.

Although boards are consciously and intentionally cultivating and recruiting trustees whose reputation and intellectual, emotional and social capital promise great returns for organisations, they are not adequately leveraging or tapping into this valuable capital.

One way to do this is through 'exceptional governance', a concept that is used in the US in particular and which revolves around key qualities and actions - for example, keeping an eye on and spotting the trends, deciding the correct direction of travel for your board and being teachable and humble.

I recently attended a forum in the US run by BoardSource, an organisation that helps non-profit organisations to build effective boards. It put the spotlight on some board-enriching tips - most noticeably, Powerpoint presentations were out and flip charts were in. Yes, you read it correctly, use flip charts in your meetings.

We were told that board culture needs to cultivate learning, carve out time for dynamic discussions and interaction, and welcome healthy tension.

Do board practices respect members' time and intelligence?

The best boards think and decide together, but the people on them do not necessarily think alike. Attention is paid to results, benchmarking and performance improvement. Time is taken to reflect and consolidate rather than jump on to the next best thing. A healthy balance is maintained between taking an inside perspective (in other words, being introspective) and looking outside the organisation, taking an outward-bound approach and observing the shifts and trends in the environment. What do you know that you did not know before? How could this affect the way you operate?

How can you be more responsive to the needs of the people who use your services?

Focus on the prize

The leadership forum reminded me of the importance of persevering and keeping focused on the prize while remaining open to new possibilities.

It's easy to say we should be teachable and humble, especially when you consider that the world we live in today is captured very aptly in the acronym Vuca: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. But exceptional governance is captured in the face of ambiguity, inspiration and pragmatism.

Inspiration lies in the words of Martin Luther King, who said: "Cowardice asks the question 'is it safe?' Expediency asks the question 'is it politic?' Vanity asks the question 'is it popular?' But conscience asks the question 'is it right.'"

The timelessness of exceptional governance is about keeping an unstinting and laser-like focus on what is ultimately right.

• Tesse Akpeki, a consultant for OnBoard, a division of Bates, Wells & Braithwaite solicitors


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