The perfect board - it’s a matter of character

Whether you are a member of a company, not for profit or political board, you can have all the laws, regulations and procedures that may be found.

You may have quotas for a particular skill, gender or ethnicity; it may be a shareholder, executive or non-executive member you are seeking.

In fact, you may have all of the perfect policies in place, but without ensuring your members have a complementary character, you are highly unlikely to have a well-performing board. Character is the backbone for the programme’s of leading youth organisations such as the Scouts, Cadets Duke of Edinburgh’s Award etc. as well as many successful educational establishments. Character is “the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual” and focuses on six key areas:

  • Trustworthiness
  • Respect
  • Responsibility
  • Fairness
  • Caring
  • Citizenship

The Harvard Business Review, in an article written by Jeffrey A. Sonnerfield in September 2002, noted that a review of the board scandals at that time (Adelphia, Enron, Tyco and Worldcom) found that a close examination of the boards in the aftermath revealed no broad pattern of incompetence or corruption. The boards followed most of the accepted standards for board operations and governance at that time, they all attended as required, had personal money invested in the companies, appropriate audit and compensation committees, codes of ethics were all in place.

The article concluded, therefore that the element missing was a recognition of the importance of the human element, in other words ensuring that they had robust and effective social systems.

By ensuring that your leadership group or board takes these characteristics into account when recruiting or appointing individuals, you will ensure that, together, they have the right balance of personalities and behaviours to provide the optimum board.

If they do not have the technical skills amongst themselves, they will know that they must seek them through an advisor or executive, for example. If they do not represent all of your stakeholders, they will know that they must ensure those views, opinions and needs are fully considered and acted upon.

By focussing on the character of the individual members, with appropriate leadership form the chair to ensure the best is achieved from each, you will be well placed to recognise the importance of the human element and build it to your advantage in establishing the perfect board.

Wayne Bulpitt CBE

The author of this article is Wayne Bulpitt CBE, Co-Founder of Aspida Group Limited, former UK Chief Commissioner, The Scouts and respected social entrepreneur.

Wayne will appear as a speaker at the Governance Guernsey 2020 conference. Find out more or book your tickets here.

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