The Legacy You Leave as a Chair or Director


Board directing sitting on chair thinking of there legacy to leave for organisation

In our position, we help many boards improve their performance, effectiveness and decision making and, as a result, get to join a lot of board meetings. We remember sitting in on one board meeting in which a director mentioned that they thought the former chair had made very little difference to the board or the organisation during their tenure. Further, other directors nodded in agreement.

This experience got us thinking about sharing this experience with other chairs, directors and boards. We began to challenge them to think about what difference they have made or are making to the long term direction, success and value of their organisation? What will your legacy be after you step down, and will people nod in agreement when others say you added great (or little) value?

Just OK is no good enough

The importance of good governance is understood by most directors and executives. And the majority oversee the operations, performance, risk and compliance of their companies pretty well.

Do you want to leave a legacy of attending 10 board meetings a year, overseeing risk and compliance well and keeping your board and your organisation out of trouble? That in itself is a win; however, many directors want to add more value than just that. Many directors don’t want to just go through the motions.

If you want you and your board to be remembered well after you have gone you need to agree on how and where to focus your joint efforts to make the biggest and most positive difference to your board and organisation. This takes time and effort and you’ll need to dig deep to achieve the alignment that is needed – but the investment of time will be repaid 10 fold and more.

How to make a positive difference and leave a legacy

Luckily, luck has nothing to do with whether you leave a legacy. A tried and proven process can help you make sure your efforts lead to the long term success and ideally a paradigm shift for your organisation. We recommend that you take the following two steps with your board

Step #1: Do a pre-mortem

You likely already do a post-mortem at the end of the financial or calendar year to identify good areas of performance and success for your annual report, but what about doing a pre-mortem? This can be done by your board at the start of each year to identify the two or three things that will be required over the next 12 to 18 months to make the biggest difference and to add the most value to the organisation over the next five or so years.

Do this by asking all directors to contribute to a long list of options, then work together with the board to shorten it. Try to get down to just two or three priorities that will receive an extra measure of the board’s collective focus and effort. You may at first think this is easy, but reaching a consensus on two or three priorities that will add the value desired is always much harder in practice. Taking that extra time and effort to achieve alignment will pay big dividends in the long run.

Having achieved that alignment the Chair, CEO and other directors will need  to keep he board focused on its priorities. Keeping a list of those priorities front and centre in the board pack will help.

Each director is likely to have different ideas, passions, areas for special focus and “hobby horses”. If the board doesn’t spend the time getting aligned around its main priorities each director is likely to pull he board in a different direction. This will not only confuse he board bu it will cause considerable organisational confusion as well.

Tip #2: Think like a football team

Do you recall those moments when a football team huddles together before a play to align on their plan of execution? Boards should visualise this and replicate the idea, huddling together to focus their collective energy and effort to support and oversee the execution of a successful play. With aligned collective focus and effort, the chances of success increase significantly.

Directors do not have the time, energy, or focus to add big value in dozens of different areas of their organisation. But they do have the time, energy and focus to add big value in a couple of areas.

Many boards have too many priorities that distract or minimise their efforts, sometimes leading to failure. Plan ahead (the pre-mortem) and realise the benefit of collective energy and well focused efforts. You and your board should not just be going through the governance motions. You should be making a deliberate decision and have a clear plan of attack to add big value in a small number of areas for your organisation.

Your legacy is not solely yours

You may have already realised it by now, but the takeaway here is that your legacy is not only up to you. A board is a collective that needs to work and move together, to propel your organisation forward.

Planning is critical, and information is key. At Board Surveys, we have streamlined systems and processes to get you and your board the vital information you need to improve the effectiveness, performance and decision making of your board. With our help, you can ensure that the legacy you leave behind is a big and positive one.


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