Diamond Directors

Board Effectiveness

Board skills matrices usually define the technical capabilities required around the boardroom table but often fail to capture what is required in terms of personal traits. Excellence in directors is a little like beauty: we know it when we see it but it is difficult to define.

What if we could make explicit those qualities that cast the real gems such that we could reduce the overburden in our boardrooms? I refer to the gems as Diamond Directors.

Diamonds of the jewellery type are classified using the 5Cs: Carat; Cut; Clarity; Colour; Certification. To define the Diamond Director we use another five: Character; Courage; Capability; Commitment; and Clarity of purpose.

Just as diamonds are created over long periods of time and under great pressure, true diamonds in the boardroom emerge over time. They bring their own innate wisdom but are usually developed under boardroom pressure when events do not go as planned. And it is usually when the pressure goes on that the real gems in the boardroom appear. When they do, they exhibit the 5C’s:

CHARACTER is defined here as the moral or ethical qualities of an individual, including their mental and behavioural traits. The director of sound character is principled, right-minded, honest, and scrupulous. Their focus is on doing what is right for the organisation and its beneficiaries, however hard or difficult that may be.

COURAGE is what allows the Diamond Director to speak up, to act on their knowledge, experience, insight or intuition, even though it may be contrary to the prevailing views of the board or executive. This is not to be disruptive or dogmatic, but to challenge others or issues and assumptions in a constructive manner. This is not be a ‘Critic’, which Richard Leblanc describes in his book Inside The Boardroom, as being inclined toward destructive rather than constructive criticism.

CAPABILITY is what allows the constructive director to quickly understand issues and have the analytical skills to bring insight to any given matter. This is what is often defined, at least at a high level, in the skills matrices and is today often taken as a given. But all the capability in the world is worthless to a board if a director does not have the next ‘C’.

COMMITMENT to undertake the scheduled and, often many, unscheduled tasks of a board. This can be more of an issue in the non-profit space where high profile directors may be willing to lend their name to a board (either for their own or the organisation’s benefit) but do not have the time available to make the commitment necessary to serve the organisation well.

CLARITY of the Diamond Director’s role has 3 parts: Clarity of their role as a value-adding board member; clarity about the role of the board within the context of the organisation’s life cycle; and, clarity about the role of the executive, again in the context of the maturity of the organisation.

These general attributes transcend the typical board skills matrix and may only come to the fore when a significant issue or opportunity presents to the organisation. It behoves all directors, both individually and collectively, to keep them in mind.

Try this simple test: on a scale of 1 – 5, where 5 is exemplary, rate yourself and each of your fellow directors on the above attributes. It might be interesting to contemplate the results. Without disclosing how you scored others, consider at least using the 5Cs of the Diamond Director as a discussion point at your next Nominations Committee meeting or at a future board meeting.

For more information, please feel free to email me at john.barrington@barrington.com.au.

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