Article By Guest Contributor, Dennis Cagan ::
It can be both amusing and yet also descriptive to nickname your board director colleagues. However, picking the right name, whether you keep it to yourself or it becomes popular with others, can provide some degree of satisfaction, understanding, and yes, entertainment. As all seasoned board members know, along with all the good that there may be with any individual, there is sometimes a little bad mixed into everyone. Unfortunately, in some cases the more unattractive or negative traits can be the individual’s defining ones.
Here is a short summary of five board personas that I have run into; you may recognize them yourself.
I was sitting in the boardroom one morning. We were waiting for the arrival of our newest director who was representing the investors of the recently completed Series D financing, which was a dilutive (or down) round. When he entered, he moved fluidly all the way around the room, quickly shaking hands and exchanging comments with the other directors. There was something odd about his posture and facial expression. One of the management guests noticed and asked me what was going on. I responded that he was simply (and figuratively) urinating in all four corners of the room to mark his territory as the new big dog of the board. This personality is entitled and does not recognize any reason to collaborate with others. It’s the old saying about the Golden Rule – ”he who has the gold, rules.”
Brutus is historically famous for assassinating Julius Caesar. From time-to-time as directors we are all called on to do the hard jobs. Often it is only delivering unpopular advice, but once in a while it means terminating a CEO. It is never fun, and rarely easy, but I have seen directors that actually appeared to take pleasure in acting out the tough-guy role. For practice they camouflage themselves as supportive advisors while they lay in wait looking for an opportunity to ambush some nervous presenting executive.
The General refers to that board member who seems to be oblivious to those business warning signs that raise the hairs on the back of their fellow directors’ necks. These folks may be identified as pointing out that the front right wheel is the wrong color when the back left one has fallen off. They may want to talk about what they know best, when everyone else is trying to dig into something critical that means the survival of the enterprise. They frequently seem to be out of synch with everyone else, to the point of disrupting the proceedings and causing damage to the board’s collaborative culture.
Rip Van Winkle
What’s worse, the wrong thing, or nothing? Rip seems to sleep through the meetings, even when his eyes are open. No questions, or questions that are so far off-topic that you cringe. It’s worse than an empty chair. This overly passive and disconnected style of governance behavior can eat away at the morale of motivated and diligent directors.
This arrogant little dictator truly believes that he or she is the most intelligent person on the board. They cannot understand why others question their opinion or logic. They are used to making every decision themselves, and have a big problem being subjected to voting and majority rule. They are short on respecting others; however, they presumptuously demand total attention and confirmation from their peers.
If you have had the honor of sitting on some boards, for profit or not for profit – you will likely have encountered some of these examples and may even have some of your own nicknames. If you do, we’d love to hear them along with your definition. Regardless of the range (and depth) of personalities on a board, the goal remains to work together. If you can help to balance out some of these less desirable traits with some positive ones of your own, then you are all the more valuable as a Director.