Power and influence with your board

Warren Bennis, the legendary management guru’s description of power as The ability to convert vision into reality’ is a good place to start when thinking about how to up your power and influence with the board.

Whether you are a chair, executive, trustee or company secretary if you want to convert your vision into reality, it obviously helps to have one. Yet many of us don’t have a clear vision for what we want or how we want our relationship with the board or exec to be. We just roll with the routine agendas and power dynamics, silently seethe and say to ourselves that it will be so much better when we’re in charge.

This is also why, when you look at a Venn like spectrum for the relationship between a board and the exec, boards and execs are operating in parallel universes or trying to do each others' jobs rather than having highly effective roles in our groups and when we intersect. In the social sector, many a well-intentioned Trustee has slid down the slippery slope of helpfulness and either gone native, meddled or lost objectivity.

As with much else, self-awareness is the first step towards a happier life, and any exec or trustee can start the process of holding up the mirror. The chair ought to be the natural one to do this, and good chairs do. The company secretary may also be superbly well placed to be the catalyst. If they do and do it well, they may well also increase their power and influence with the board.

Finding the right balance between support and oversight through the torrent of tough choices that boards have had to make this year has been challenging. From the webinars that I have been involved in with groups of chairs, CEOs and others, it seems that those who spent time figuring out how they were going to change the way they worked together through the crisis have coped the best.

This is also a deeply personal topic, and the quality of our judgement and interpersonal skills combined with the strength of our antennae will define whether we come up with the right vision and turn it into a reality. Being irritatingly right, sycophantically wrong or out of tune usually amounts to the same thing – ‘NO INFLUENCE!’

It’s also incredibly hard to influence people who don’t respect you. So, it helps to build a store of respect before you need to use it. Some of this flows from our positional power, but often more of it comes from our personal power and ability to listen to what others think as much as what they say.

Once the discussion is opened up, it then tends to be about purpose, people and process, on achieving alignment and effectively managing conflict and cultural differences. All things that we will be exploring in more detail at the Charity Governance Summit on 28 September 2020.


Patrick Dunne Author of Boards, Chair of EY Foundation & ESSA - Education Sub Saharan Africa and Patron of Leap Confronting Conflict

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