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While internal boardroom politics are the bane of many an executive’s existence, getting your board members working in the same direction can be a vital step towards a successful CEO tenure.

Corporate governance has brought with it greater scrutiny of the board, its role, its composition and its effectiveness, and we are ever more aware of the importance of independence and ethical guidelines. And when one looks at the composition of several boards, there are general rules of thumb that are followed. But looking across a number of organisations, it can be seen that although some companies’ boards have the “right” mix in terms of backgrounds and skills of the individual directors, some have more of an impact than others.

So, if it is not structure, what is it that makes a good board? Research documented in the Harvard Business Review stresses that the key ingredient is the social element as opposed to the structure per se.

Just as the chemistry in a well-functioning, successful team cannot be quantified, it nonetheless is a key, determining component that is present in effective boards.

There are five key elements that can help a CEO foster the optimum environment in which the board, and each member within it, performs at their best: creating a climate of trust and candour; fostering a culture of open dissent; harnessing the mix of different roles; ensuring individual accountability and performance evaluation.

Climate of trust

Creating a climate of trust and candour is a virtuous cycle whereby board members develop mutual respect, therefore developing trust, and hence enabling the sharing of difficult information. The CEO needs to be transparent and open in information sharing, providing documents with ample time for them to be read and digested. This will enable all members to have the same level of information and so allow for more balanced discussion and a better- informed decision process.

The CEO should also give board members free access to people who can answer their questions, such as creating opportunities to meet key company personnel and inspecting company sites. Encouraging different board members to engage in this kind of activity and spending time together creates more unity and minimises the exposure or risk of factions. Providing free access to information and key personnel also eliminates the need and/or desire of individual members to create “back access” to information leading to them breaking away from the team and creating possible factions.

Open culture

In an environment of trust and mutual respect, healthy debate is encouraged where assumptions are challenged. This ensures issues are thoroughly discussed and each member has the opportunity to voice his viewpoint.

The CEO should not punish or discourage rebels or nonconformists, but instead use the opportunity to learn. It is through these interactions that people’s perspectives are challenged and horizons expanded. The CEO should leverage the knowledge and wisdom of the members of the board. Having a thorough understanding of members’ positions and their justifications opens opportunities to new conclusions and stronger decisions.

Research conducted by Eisenhardt and Bourgeois, found that the highest-performing companies have extremely contentious boards and regard dissent as an obligation, treating no subject as a taboo topic.


CEOs, along with other board members, should encourage members to play a variety of roles thereby giving them a wider perspective of the business. Viewing a scenario from a different perspective and developing alternative scenarios to evaluate strategic decisions not only broadens the number of possibilities and opportunities but also inhibits members developing a rigid point of view. Hence, members should be encouraged to play devil’s advocate, at other times delve into the details of the business and also be given the opportunity to act as the project manager. A case that demonstrates the impact this can have on a business was at Pepsico in 1997 when the board decided to sell the various components of its well-run restaurant group.

CEO Roger Enrico had previously turned around the unit which had been the brainchild of two of Enrico’s predecessors and must have had great pride in the division. Yet, he eventually convinced all that the restaurant unit should be sold and so that it could flourish freely beyond the controls of the parent company. It proved to be a brilliant idea.


Ensuring accountability is probably one of the toughest challenges a CEO faces. In a survey conducted by the Yale School of Management and the Gallup Organisation, 25% of CEOs claimed that their board members did not appreciate the complexity of the businesses they oversaw. In recent history we have seen cases of individuals blaming others, proclaiming ignorance, Enron being a case in point.

Directors should take their duties seriously and encourage others to do the same, setting the tone for acceptable behaviour and performance.

Behaviour breeds behaviour and although the CEO and chairman of the board can assign tasks to get individuals fully engaged, peer pressure will play a major influencing factor in further enforcing positive behaviour.

Tasks can take on various formats and could involve collecting external data, meeting with customers, anonymously visiting plants and stores in the field and cultivating links to outside parties critical to the company. The exercise will then require members to impart knowledge and findings to the rest of the board and allows them to become better versed in strategic and operational issues the company faces.

GE’s board members for instance, dine with the company’s largest suppliers and distributors the night before the annual meeting while Home Depot’s board members are expected to visit at least eight stores outside their home state between board meetings.

Evaluate performance

Not giving feedback to a team is self-destructive as there can be no learning without feedback. Findings from a combination of research and surveys show that directors rate their board’s effectiveness significantly more positively at companies where individual members are evaluated. Although, when individuals are in an interdependent group such as on a board, it is better to conduct a formal evaluation on the performance of the overall group rather than its individual members.

One reason for this may be that, as it currently stands, board members are typically replaced for performance reasons only in extreme circumstances (e.g., criminal misconduct, conflict of interest, active disruption, very poor attendance/participation record) – and if they are replaced, they are rarely given an early warning and a chance to improve. In most cases, boards wait for under-performing directors to retire, a more reactive than proactive approach. Since the Board is in effect a high-level team, no matter how good it is, it is bound to get better if  there is an evaluation process in place.

A good first step in director evaluation is to have directors assess only themselves. After two or three years, a peer assessment can be introduced, with directors evaluating one another. A simple pass/fail along several dimensions will ensure that the process is not too time consuming. The evaluations can be handed over to a trusted board advisor, such as outside legal counsel, who summarises the findings and provides individuals with their results. A next step is for the assessments to be turned over to the committee charged with director nominations, so that under-performing directors can be identified and action taken. Overall, this is good way of identifying who is truly adding value to the organisation, as well as making performance expectations clear. In evaluating directors, ask yourself the following questions:

• Do they understand the company’s strategy and business?

• Do they keep up to date with issues and trends affecting the business?

• Are they willing to challenge management when necessary?

• Do they have special expertise that is important to the company?

• Do they have an appropriate level of involvement in CEO succession and assessment?

• Do they attend boardroom meetings and discussions?

• Are they readily available for committee meetings?

• Do they contribute to board and committee agendas?

• Are they well prepared for meetings and discussions?

• Do they actively participate and contribution to the committee and boardroom deliberations?

• Are they available outside meetings to advise management?

• Do they effectively inquire about major performance deficiencies?

Although there are guidelines in how to formulate a board, the attitude a CEO takes towards the board is key in the tone that is going to be set. If a board is to truly fulfill its purpose of monitoring performance, advising the CEO, and providing connections with a broader world, it must become a robust team. Its members need to be actively engaged in seeking the truth and challenge each other to broaden their perspectives and viewpoints. The CEO should work in collaboration with the Board and all its members as opposed to viewing it as an obstacle that needs to be managed. Adopting an approach of transparency, honesty and respect will go a long way to building and nurturing a strong team, and a robust and effective board.


We have all seen a myriad of company websites touting a list of values they stand for:

  • Respect, Integrity, Communication and Excellence;
  • Integrity and honesty in everything we do;
  • High performance and great behaviours driving exceptional rewards;
  • Respect, trust and integrity; the list goes on.

And yet, it is no good saying what you stand for if the actions of the people and the company operations are not in alignment with what the values presumably set the bar to be.  Values are not mere marketing, nice to have fuzzy words, but rather guiding principles that are supposed to be the bedrock and governance practice of every individual within the organisation. The values listed above are those of notable organisations.  Companies that until the recent past were held in high regard until they were linked or associated with fraud, corruption and the manipulation of the truth.  One would hope that by now, we would be wiser, smarter and behave more responsibly.  But alas, this is not the case.

Countless people are talking about values but how many people in any organisation are aware of what values the company supposedly stands for?  And if they don’t know what they are, how can they be behaving in alignment with those values?  Do we brandish certain values to the outside world, whilst we create compensation and rewards structures that promote behaviours that are contradictory? Values are not drawn up by a single individual or, more worryingly, by a marketing company who then presents some nice fluffy document or prospectus.  Values are determined by the people building and driving the organisation – by individuals who are committed to a vision and have the courage to develop a set of principles they are committed to living by in order to meet that vision.  Everyone in the organisation is responsible for acting in alignment with the values.  But let’s take a closer look… The following is an extract of some values of a financial services organisation.  This is for example purposes only and is not meant to single them out per se, but rather to show the potential complexity in adhering to values and knowing what truly will be ‘rewarded’.

  • Our clients’ interests always come first.
  • Our goal is to provide superior returns to our shareholders (…significant employee stock ownership aligns the interests of our employees and our shareholders.)
  • We stress creativity and imagination in everything we do. (…We pride ourselves on having pioneered many of the practices and techniques that have become standard in the industry.)
  • Integrity and honesty are at the heart of our business.

One could argue that it is these same values that drove this organisation and its people to develop and market complex financial instruments that were a factor in the lead up to the financial crisis, with the exception of course of the last principle – integrity and honesty.  But when a reward system is based on short-term gains and organisations are under pressure to post quarterly results, people choose to hear what they want to hear, making them feel that they are acting honestly. Back in 1990, in an article by Amar Bhide and Howard H. Stevenson entitled Why Be Honest If Honesty Doesn’t Pay, published in the Harvard Business Review, they had highlighted that unfortunately, treachery can pay, and that without values, without a basic preference for right over wrong, trust based on such self-delusion would crumble in the face of temptation.

The recent events have proven this.  Suffice to say, no one person is exempt from knowing, honouring and living the values, regardless of rank, position or title.  People in an organisation and serving an organisation have a fiduciary responsibility to balance results against the backdrop of ethics and purpose.  The real challenge is for each and every one of us to have the courage to do what is right, to think, speak and act with the highest intention, and to have the courage to say no, to break away from the crowd and not be lulled by what the proverbial Joneses are doing.  Failure to do so will inadvertently lead to a more disturbing economic climate than we are experiencing currently. So how is this done?  The key word here is alignment.  Imagine a compass setting for a moment.  If the heading is North, everyone first needs to know the heading is North.  We then need to determine what behaviours are in alignment with the North heading.  And then they need to be tested, creating scenarios that will test their applicability – the what if scenarios.  Just as any sailor knows, the seas change, the winds shift direction, but the heading is there and the skills and tenacity to navigate the course are what determine the true leaders.


I love studying, working with and sharing stories about the next generation for it is a subject that encompasses defining wealth, the impact of our actions and indeed our purpose. In a nutshell it incorporates the purpose of our wealth…the purpose of our lives…and how we maximise both.

But how?

John F Kennedy had said, “To those whom much is given, much is expected.”

And we have in the large part great expectations of the next generation.

And yet, one of the greatest fuels of disappointment is expectations.

Seneca, the Roman philosopher and senator, attributed anger to frustrated expectations.

So here we have one of the dichotomies faced, not only by wealthy families but also by human beings at large.

And it is our humanness I would like to focus on for the next few minutes in determining what we pass on to the next generation and how.

Some time back, I was at a conference and was asked, “What is the responsibility of the family?”

Any thoughts?

In my opinion, the primary responsibility, regardless of your level of wealth is to best prepare your children to survive and thrive in this world, to be good human beings. You may give them lots of money, but do they have the wisdom on what to do with it? If there is a downturn in the economy and fortunes are lost, do they have the ability, fortitude and resourcefulness to rebuild it? What about if they grow the wealth or forge a path that is away from the ethos of the family? What if they are fantastic in their business but are terribly unhappy in their private life?

There is so much written about succession, legacy, constitutions, and governance that I sometimes think we have forgotten what it’s all about and left out the greatest aid in our cause – the love and respect we have for each other as family.

But do we?  Do we truly understand each other?

Do we empathically listen to each other?

Do we really endeavour to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes?

Or do we adopt an attitude of – this is how we have always been, this is how things are done in our family.

What do we really want for the next generation?

Isn’t it really about them growing into the people they have the potential to be?

Every family is different and every human being is different too.  It is not for me to tell you how you should or shouldn’t do things. My intention is rather to provide you with a framework to see where you are right now, to contemplate where you would like to be, what matters, to consider if your current strategy will get you there, and the steps to course correct.

We are all familiar with a tree. But the tree didn’t come out of nowhere. You first need the seed, you need to prepare the soil, you need to plant the seed in the right environment to ensure its roots take hold, and you need to provide it with the appropriate amount of water and sun to ensure it grows. It is the same with the next generation and it is these elements that we will extrapolate to practicalities in nurturing and developing the next generation.

There are three 3 core areas:

  • Mission & Purpose;
  • Values & Self Awareness;
  • Actions
Mission & Purpose

Most businesses have a mission statement and a purpose. It is well articulated, often hung in the reception, in the corner offices, on the fronts of prospectuses, on the website.

But how many families take the same care in developing and understanding their own family’s purpose, what they stand for, what is important to them, their raison d’etre? This is not a nice to have but a must have – a unified philosophy that instills a sense of identity and direction in the family. This is not something that is imposed by an outside adviser, marketer or lawyer, all scenarios I have heard of, treating it as a check box on the path to governance, but rather a process of exploration and discussion.

This is not too dissimilar to building the foundations to a building – do you want a shack or the ability to grow into a soaring tower? It is the same amount of depth the family and its members need to go through if they want to grow as a family and instill growth in the next generation. It is an essential process that provides an opportunity for other family members to voice their perspective, dreams, hopes and desires in co-creating the environment which is most essential for their development and growth – their home.

The Purpose & Mission become the bedrock upon which the next generation understand the character that was weaved into the family through the generations, the moral compass that will help them determine the right path to choose, in discerning the multitude of options presented to them. It provides them with a backbone, a support mechanism upon which to draw wisdom. As long as it is done correctly, with the appropriate level of exploration and discussion it requires, and deserves.

One family of noble lineage stemming back to the 800s epitomised their family philosophy in the following way: our family is like a chain along a wall, attached by a nail. Some nails are lower, others higher, holding the line of the chain. Your responsibility is to ensure you place a nail. It doesn’t matter if up or down, but ensure you place a nail. It is this simple philosophy that enabled this next generation member to muster the courage to reshape himself and move forward after losing everything in the financial crisis. This simple phrase enabled him to remember the character instilled in the family, the courage and resilience of the family, and the standing of their good name. This went on to determine how he handled the situation he faced, how he interacted and engaged with others, how he conducted his business affairs, how he severed the ties he needed to, all with the dignity, grace and integrity instilled in him along his line.

That is the power of Mission & Purpose. The ability to thrive in the face of challenges.

Values & Self-Awareness

Has anyone ever upset you, even perhaps made you angry?

It probably wasn’t the person’s intention to make you angry. But their actions or what they said happened to impinge upon one of your values. Moreover, their behaviour was also linked to their values. We see people like icebergs. Not from a temperature perspective but from a depth perspective. We only see the tip of the iceberg, the one-eighth peering above the surface, people’s behaviour. But the majority of the iceberg lies beneath the surface, in the depths of the water it occupies. And this is where we have our beliefs, perspectives and values, lying beneath the surface and façade of our actions, often lying within our unconscious mind.

Failing to be aware of, or sensitive to, what these are is like being in constant autopilot.

Imagine being in a plane, relying on the autopilot but you don’t know the controls, navigation system or even what all the parts are called. Do you think that journey will end well if something unexpected comes into sight? And when life happens, it is values and perspectives that are affected.

Let me share a story to illustrate: One family had built a significant investment company and it was understood this was a family business to be grown and transferred to future generations. Then tragedy struck. The father was diagnosed with cancer and, shortly afterwards, his wife also. They underwent treatment and, thank goodness, they survived. The experience shocked the family and all were immensely grateful the parents survived. The experience affected the parents profoundly, driving in them the desire and will to found and endow a world-class medical research facility dedicated to uncovering the causes, treatment, prevention and cure of the genetic cause of cancer and other genetically based diseases. In addition, they tithed 40% of the family business’s annual profits to fund the facility.

That is how values are shaken and reshaped – when life happens.


The third is Actions. All the goodwill in the world, all the lovely statements and words will do no good if we do not follow through with our actions. We are pulled in a million and one directions with many demands on our time, and mostly looking forwards not back. We have all heard the expression ‘with the benefit of hindsight’.

So it is the ultimate hindsight I would like to touch upon – the topic that is rarely talked about – and that is death.

It is ironic that as human beings we avoid the topic. How many times have you heard a patriarch, even yourself say, “if I die…”? We love guarantees, certainty, and yet we shy away from the ultimate deadline. But through this lens, we can glean much insight into what is truly important to us: Where we focus our time and efforts; What we put off for another day; Who we say no to; What and whom we say yes to; What we don’t say waiting for the right time or holding on until the other makes the first move.

Consider this if you will – imagine you had a week to live:

  • What would you do differently?
  • How would you behave differently?
  • Who would you choose to share time with?
  • What conversations would you ensure you had?
  • What can you now see that you couldn’t see before?
  • What are you grateful for?
  • What really matters?
  • When you are no longer here, what do you want to be remembered for – the empire you built, or your character, how you conducted yourself, how you treated others?

One family’s experience that resounds in me is the story of a beautiful woman, now with children and grandchildren of her own. She is a humble and soulful lady, doing her best to be a steward for the wealth as well as being a loving wife, mother and grandmother to her family. In sharing her story she revealed that her father worked very hard, committed to the company and what he was creating. His focus on his work, as well as his belief that women had no role in business, meant that he shared very little time with his daughter, to the extent that she learned who he was and his accomplishments through a book. On the other hand, he did share a lot of time with his grandchildren who can now forge their own path instilled with the grandfather’s philosophy.

Nelson Mandela said “In judging our progress as individuals, we tend to concentrate on external factors such as one’s social position, influence and popularity, wealth and standard of education…but internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being.”

So in considering what we leave the next generation and how, I would impress on you the importance of focusing first on the foundations. This enables the next generation to have the capacity to delve within themselves to grow and have the impact they are capable of. It also enables us, to understand and embrace what matters and to be the best we can be. For it is in our own life’s example that we leave the ultimate testament to our legacy.


There is a great talk and initiative by Angela Maiers entitled “You Matter”, and how these two words could positively impact our lives.

It really puts into perspective and simplicity the manner in which we conduct ourselves in our daily interactions, with great relevance for the corporate world and our business dealings.

Consider Customer Care for a moment. How many times do you interact with representatives who simply do not seem to care, let alone make you feel that you matter.

Or of trying to have a conversation with someone who is affixed to their computer or mobile, or looking elsewhere.

Or simply not being acknowledged.

Do these make you feel that you matter?

For if we are making people feel they don’t matter, we make them feel insignificant. And since what goes around, comes around, the deeper question is, do you feel you matter?

For me, these two words “You Matter” have brought to the forefront of my mind a simple code of conduct – going through each day, being present, truly engaging with and caring about people we come into contact with, even people we come across in the street – a simple smile, offering a helping hand, being kind. Isn’t this what being human is ultimately about? I cannot fathom why many people stop being human as soon as they walk into an office building and hide behind “but this is business”.

We have a tendency as humans to complicate simplicity, coming up with words that become so overused they become jargon and meaningless: employer of choice, corporate social responsibility, ethics – all very noble in their own right and when done with the spirit the words themselves intended. And yet ‘You Matter’ for me personifies many of these. If every interaction we have, every decision we make, are centred around these two words, how different would our days be, the people around us, our families, our businesses, our communities. How different would we be? How different would you be if you felt you mattered?

I believe everyone has a purpose and yes, each and every one of us matters. I believe now is a good time to let go of our past, our titles and our pride, and be someone who matters by making someone feel they matter. Will you choose to matter?


finding your inner harmony

Imagine a violin – its beautiful lines, the warmth of its colour, the depth of its lacquer, the tactile feel of the wood. Such a work of craftsmanship, and yet, the beauty of the violin is wasted if hidden, nestling in its velvet lined case. Its true beauty comes when it is picked up, brought in to the light, balanced in hand, tuned and the bow kisses the strings creating pure harmonies. An exquisite amplification and showcase of the player’s unique skill and technique.

This is a simple allegory for human potential, looking at our talents that, like the violin, are hidden until we pick them up and employ them. Talents need to be tuned, artfully brought out and harmonised for the myriad of possible repertoires and circumstances.

The other beautiful analogy of the violin, or any other musical instrument, is it can play many tunes, many harmonies, in solo, as a duet or leading an orchestra, both syncing and syncopating the melody and harmony to the others. The same is true of us, applying our talents to personal goals, relationships, team environments and wider organisational missions, listening to the music and tuning in.

Some pieces of music are better suited to some instruments than others – and that’s ok. You don’t see a violinist or flautist upset because a part of the composition doesn’t include their instrument at that moment. Musicians understand and love the beauty and harmony of the piece, and are happy to play their role in weaving it together. They trust the conductor, each other and themselves to do the piece justice, to woo the audience and transcend them to another place, filling them with the emotions the composer intended.

Now consider an organisation, built on great values, with a shared mission and goals. Each team member needs to play in harmony for the organisation to achieve. An environment where each person is knowing, confident and passionate about their particular talents and how they mesh with others to create beauty and harmony. Unusual words in an organisational framework, and yet, it is music to our ears when we hear positive feedback on our work, when we satisfy our customers, when we have content employees, when our shareholders are happy.

So be like the great conductors and get your orchestra to play in harmony. Lead the way in doing things differently.

Did this resonate and you’d like to know more? Please get in touch for your confidential one-to-one.

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Within every person lie moments of significance, experiences that shape us, change our perspective, carve our character and drive us to a deeper part of ourselves.

A few years ago I had one of those moments. It took the form of a terrible shock – the sudden death of someone I loved deeply, his last breath in front of my very eyes. I would be lying if I said, as I reflect on that moment, that my heart doesn’t hurt, that my own breath doesn’t stop for a moment. But just as I choose to ride rollercoasters, with the gut wrenching squeals that come with them, if I’m honest, I choose to reflect on that moment. Not to experience its sadness, but rather to encapsulate a sense of purpose, of urgency, of peace, of joy, of life itself.

The fact of the matter is a) I can’t change what happened b) it could happen to anyone of us at any moment c) our own time on this planet, whether we choose to admit it or not, is finite.

So I find it focuses my mind to what really matters in life, knowing all too well that this could be my last moment. As strange as it may sound, I choose to see it as a gift.

I have held back from sharing this openly with people, in a way fearing putting myself so much on the line, fear of being judged, fear of being labeled as morose. But those who know me can attest that I have a love of life and a love of humanity. And it is because of that love that I am doing this, because maybe the lessons I learned through my experience could in some way make a small difference to someone, and that in a strange way will make the experience worthwhile.

No Unsaids

If you love someone, tell them. If you need something, ask. If you’re stuck, own up. Don’t be afraid to share your dreams, your wishes, your aspirations. Don’t worry about airing your fears, they don’t seem so bad when they’re brought out from the dark recesses of our minds. Be fearless in challenging perspectives (especially yours). Be honest. Be truthful. Be honourable.

Connect deeply

Put down your phone, your iPad, your laptop. Ignore your emails, messages and put your phone on silent or off. Get the person you care about most in the world and look into their eyes, hold them, feel their breath, take time to listen – to the words and the silence in between, the magical doorways that lead you to their essence.

Be present

If you’re at dinner, be at dinner. If you’re having a conversation, be in the conversation. If you’re sharing a moment with someone (even yourself) be in that moment. Absorb everything every moment offers you. Just as you would savour every morsel of a gourmet meal, so it should be with moments.

Have the courage to love deeply

The only thing that hurts more than loving someone is not having the courage to love at all. Love with all your heart, with abandon, with fullness, with gusto, with no holds barred.

You can’t have a rainbow without some rain

Don’t be afraid of shedding a tear and definitely don’t bottle it up. See tears as a way to transform what may seem as a sad or painful experience. With light shed on it and the right perspective even that moment can bring beauty and joy into your life.


Be thankful for every moment – to have an extraordinary life one must take pleasure in what may seem extra-ordinary.

Tend to what matters

It is easy to get distracted, to listen to the drum of others. Take some time to figure out what truly matters to you and make sure your daily actions reflect that.

Just do it!

Don’t wait till tomorrow, till next week, till you have more time, till you have more money, till whatever excuse or reason blocks your way – today, right now, this moment. Tick tock, tick tock. You have but one life – live it!



Headhunter turned talent spotter, Deborah is vested in the impact business has in both economic and social terms across various strata of society. She is the Creator of AMANI™ and a catalyst for business being a force for good, 


Did this resonate and you’d like to know more? Please get in touch for your confidential one-to-one.

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