“Good leaders must first become good servants.” – Robert Greenleaf
Yes, we know you were elected or appointed to the board of directors because of your expertise, your skills, your background, your hard work, your personality, and/or your commitment to the company or organization.
Or maybe you stepped up when nobody else volunteered.
Regardless of how you became a board member, we know you are a smart, well-intentioned person with valuable experience.
The trouble is, when it comes to being a board member, it’s not about you.
And this is the paradox of board leadership: while you might earn a seat on a board of directors or council thanks to your abilities, knowledge, and/or popularity, truly serving well as a board member means leaving your ego far, far behind.
There are two main reasons for “checking your ego at the door.” First, board authority is group authority. A fact of life that every board member must understand — if not embrace — is that board authority is used as a group, and no individual board member has any individual authority unless that authority has been given to him/her by the group as a whole (see Policy Governance’s Board Holism principle).
Second, the function of a board member is not to serve any personal interest, but rather the interests of the moral or legal owners, whoever those people might be (see Policy Governance’s Ownership principle). Unless the board members are the same people as the owners, there is always another group of people to whom a board is ultimately accountable, and therefore those people must always be firmly in board members’ minds.
As such, board members should always be asking themselves:
1. Am I deciding or behaving in this manner for the good of the board as a whole?
2. Am I deciding or behaving in this manner for the good of the legal/moral ownership?
In this inspirational speech given at the inaugural Policy Governance conference in Chicago in 2004, John Carver calls upon board members to “transcend” themselves in order to bring “increasing integrity to the magnificent creative capacity of the human race and to the bewildering conduct of human affairs.” Indeed, boards of directors can drive the accomplishment of so much good in this world, but only if they pay attention to the “we” over the “me.”
Are your board members behaving from the “me” or from the “we”? To start key conversations about accountability at your next board meeting, use the free board discussion tool below.
See also: Boards Can Be Accountable to Owners ― Without Being Jerks to Everyone Else