Monday, November 21, 2011

Susan Leahy on Robert’s Rules of Order

Are you tired of hearing everyone complain about “unproductive meetings”? Susan Leahy is one of the few women I’ve seen who truly understands the problem -- which is that most people today haven’t a clue how to run a meeting effectively.  Ms. Leahy offers unusual insight, advice, and products/services focused on the issue of using Robert’s Rules of Order as an organizing tool to build more effective teams.  See her web site at:

A very interesting part of her presentation is recognizing the difference between “a group” vs. “a team” -- the former is people who just come together “like Topsy,” while the latter comes together with purpose, goals, ownership, and responsibilities. These are tough lessons women entrepreneurs absolutely must learn.

A second strength from Susan Leahy is the power of effective and confident public speaking. Most people dread public speaking more than they fear death.  Clearly, anyone with some competence in the area of standing up, organizing your thoughts, and delivering them persuasively has a significant and powerful edge over the hoards of people who sit, cowering in the corner.

But, my hat’s off to Ms. Leahy for her focus on Parliamentary Procedures: the seven fundamental motions and how to use them to keep meetings moving along toward results. Most people are petrified about making a motion because they have never been taught the where’s and why’s of Parliamentary Procedures.

Few people realize that the backbone of Parliamentary Procedures, Robert’s Rules of Order, has been around since 1876, originally under the title, Pocket Manual of Rules of Order of Deliberative Assemblies. General Henry Martyn Robert was an engineering officer in the regular Army. When he was asked to preside over a public meeting in his community church, he realized that he did not know how to do that. As he traveled around the U.S., he discovered “virtual parliamentary anarchy” and decided to write his “Pocket Manual” in an effort to bring order out of chaos. Currently in its 11th edition, the classic is now supported by the Robert's Rules Association, made up of descendants of Gen. Henry Robert.

Susan Leahy is helping us find our way out of “virtual parliamentary anarchy” and “meeting anarchy” by once again teaching us how to simplify our deliberations and decision-making in our public and private assemblies.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Boardroom Q&A

The latest must-read book from America’s other governance curmudgeon, Ralph Ward, is titled, Boardroom Q&A - Ralph Ward Answers Your Toughest Boardroom Questions (published by Boardroom INSIDER; Kindle edition only (August 7, 2011)). 

Ralph Ward is writer, editor, publisher and everything else for Boardroom INSIDER, the electronic governance newsletter he’s produced since 1997.  See his web site for a complete description of Mr. Ward, his books, his newsletter and all things INSIDER:

Curmudgeon? Mr. Ward admits to as much, himself, here:

“I’ve taken a deliberately contrarian approach to the topic of corporate governance.”

Mr. Ward’s latest book is a compendium of eighty-eight Q&As (questions and answers) plus another fifteen answers-only that he’s fielded from readers and advisors through his BI newsletter. Boardroom Q&A is a treasure-trove of information now assembled in a Kindle-only edition.

This excerpt should make aspiring board candidates feel a little less intimidated:

  “The men and women who serve on the world’s corporate boards are already supposed to know all these answers . . . but often they don’t.” 

Another insight suggests that candidates also are not the only ones trying to learn all this best practices stuff by hook or by crook:  

“All [corporate directors] tend to be smart, conscientious and business savvy.  Yet, they’ve had to teach themselves how to wrestle with the unique personal, logistical, tactical and legal issues encountered behind boardroom doors.” [Emphasis added.]

It’s great to see that many of the experts Mr. Ward cites in the answers are leading women in governance consulting or executive search -- re-affirming our oft-argued premise that it doesn’t matter what the percentages are, what does matter is the caliber of the women who do step up to the plate.

The topics addressed by Mr. Ward cover the basics, but also provide room for creative and innovative thinking-- something for which he  is more than well-known:

·                     Board Structure and Procedures
·                     Wrestling with Board Information
·                     Personal Issues
·                     Liabilities
·                     My Personal Board Portfolio
·                     Paysetting for Boards and Execs
·                     Crises
·                     Board Leadership
·                     Board/Management Issues

Especially check out the Q&A, “Tempting Reluctant Board Candidates” under the category, My Personal Board Portfolio, and “Nonprofit Boards Battling Hard Times” under Crises.  Mr. Ward pops old myths, along with the best of them.

It's a pleasure to report that Mr. Ward's book review is our 400th posting since starting the ChampionBoards blog in 2005.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

On the Executive Search Side of the Question

When we talk about “the women on boards issue,” we know there are many players in the game.  There is the CEO and his/her leadership team.  There’s the Nominating/Governance Committee. There are the women in the prospective candidate pool. And, too, there are the executive search firms.

Every woman I’ve interviewed who made it to the top mentioned one or several executive search professionals who knew about her contributions at her firm(s) and did not hesitate to either propose her as a candidate for promotion or for a board role or mentor her in her career progression. The key seemed to be staying in touch and making sure executive search professionals knew about their leadership contributions all along the way--not just dumping a resume on their desk “in between assignments.”

The SEC now requires every public company to disclose the source of new director nominees, and executive search firms are being cited more often as the referral origin.  We have seen very few statistical reports of how many women or diversity candidates have entered the executive search gates, but we are learning more about how aggressively women are being advanced to director roles.  Directors & Boards magazine recently reported that 48% of new director announcement in the 2nd Q 2011 were women -- an amazing percentage, and one that parallels the increases reported at

In their 3rd Quarter 2011 issue, D&B magazine used the headline, “The Power of Three” to introduce the issue of women on boards and discuss how well women fit into the deliberative process of the boardroom.  In 2011, 55% percent of women agreed with the idea of “the power of three,” while barely 16% of men believed it.  Fifty-six percent of those surveyed in the International markets believe it vs. just 32% in the US.  This speaks volumes about the distance that exists between perspectives: outside v. inside the boardroom.

Some men argue that they have found that some women are not willing to be “the first woman on a board” because the women believed the myth that the first woman would be a token -- yet every one of the first women quoted in the article stated she believed she made the cut on her performance, on the merits.  But, myths will be myths, yes? (For those interested in my “real views” on the three-women-myth can find it at the NACD Directorship blog:

It also will be interesting to see how many women candidates will submit their credentials to the GMI 3D database.  Over the years, we’ve seen other director registries and databases suffer from a lack of women candidates--including the “big one” at NACD. 

Through the past half dozen years I've done research on this, I've met and talked with several prominent search firm leaders across the country.  They say they are in a double bind between the CEO, nominating/governance committee and the candidate pool -- but the most important factor to remember is that executive search firms, like corporations, are in business to make money, not foster causes.  They've reported many "stupid things" that candidates do to take themselves out of competition.  They don't deny the "male, pale, stale" syndrome, and yet they are challenged to be able to insert into boards -- which want collaborative, team members -- unproven strangers who may end up being adversarial, embarrassing, and confrontational as in "Why DON'T you have more women and diversity candidates on board?"

Collegiality is a top consideration in the recruitment of new candidates -- will this person fit into the synergies of this leadership group? Will the board members be proud and honored to collaborate with this candidate?  These are the questions women also must answer. 

Early in my involvement with women on boards, one executive search woman essentially pulled out of the board search business because, telling me, (1) there were too few top tier women in business who were interested in board roles (“too risky” most of them said) and (2) the experience of the women wasn’t a match to the lines of business in the area (aerospace, oil/energy).  I’m not agreeing with her-- I’m just the reporter.

Another women executive search professional said she only “sees” about one woman applicant for every 50 male applicants.  Still another said that, rather than it being a “problem on the demand side” (i.e., companies, CEOs, Nominating Committees), it seems to be “more a problem on the supply side” (i.e., not enough women ready, willing, and able to take on the mantle of board leadership.

As recently as last week, I asked another executive search professional about his experience with advancing women to board roles. He expressed frustration with the progress, shaking his head, saying he just didn’t understand why the needle wasn’t moving off the mark.  Another executive search male established arms of his own company overseas to widen the net in search of women of talent-- but still didn’t see substantial change.

I’ve listened to another executive search professional, who also happens to sit on a major public company board (interesting?), who spoke about “trust” being the paramount consideration in selecting colleagues for the highly-collaborative role of a board director.  Do women “trust” corporate leadership enough to be part of that team? Or do they feel like outsiders? Do board members “trust” that women will be collegial and collaborative? Or do they fear rebellion from within? How does one overcome questions of “trust” like these?

In conclusion, I see executive search firms--as well as Nominating Committees-- more open than ever before to the pursuit of talented women executives for board roles.  I am not yet persuaded that there are “enough” women who really want board roles, as contrasted with women who prefer nonprofits or retirement over and above the challenge of corporate oversight and governance. 

And, many of you already know the argument that IF women wanted boards, women would build boards for their own businesses and demonstrate what “governance best practices” actually might look like.