News

Choiceful or Choiceless? Building better boards through Choiceful leadership

16 May 2013 By Corrinne Armour

First published in the Better Boards Quarterly, 14 May 2013.
http://betterboards.net/articles/choiceful-choiceless/

Would you choose to take action blindfolded and with your hands tied behind your back? Sometimes you do!

There are important issues no board can afford to get wrong: succession planning, strategy, response to key legislative changes, a merger, … If your board is not fully aware (and how do you know what you don’t know?) or lacks sufficient capacity to respond, you may just be blindfolded with your hands tied without even realizing.

Leading choicefully is having awareness that you have choice, and capacity to respond to that awareness towards an identified purpose or goal.

Don't be fooled…. We always have choice! While we may not be able to control what happens to us, we do have control over how we respond.

 

When we become hostage to a situation, we unconsciously reduce our awareness and our capacity, and our Choicefulness declines. Viktor Frankyl was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist and a survivor of the Holocaust. Of his concentration camp experience he said ‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.’ Viktor Frankyl lived choicefully.

Choiceful leadership

 

1 - Unnamed

Note 1: Model developed by B Anderson, C Armour, K Brumby, H Boorman, May 2013. Reproduced with permission.

Awareness: Acting choicefully requires awareness of yourself, including your thinking, feelings and capacity, awareness of others, awareness of the situation, and awareness of the interplay between all levels of awareness.

‘Jason’ 2 had awareness. He knew that people found him difficult to connect with and cold. Recognised nationally for his technical expertise, his high intelligence left people feeling intimidated. Jason could detect when people were disengaging and this would begin a downward spiral.

Jason had a high awareness of the impact he was having on others, and yet without the capacity to respond, being Informed was debilitating and Jason was unable to lead choicefully. He was frustrated and others experienced him as frustrated.

With added Resources (in this case developing skills of emotional intelligence), Jason was able to build a state of Choicefulness. The effectiveness of his leadership increased, as did his confidence.

Capacity: Acting choicefully requires capacity, including skills, time, physical resources, and the will to decide.

‘Graeme’ is the chair of a community owned social enterprise that wins awards in its field and is considered a benchmark for similar organisations. Graeme is the type of Chair many CEOs would covet. He is well networked, highly skilled, and invests significant energy to advancing the organisation. Graeme has a high capacity – he is Resourced.

And yet in one area, Graeme’s lack of awareness is limiting both his own ability to act choicefully, and limiting the ability of the Board to develop a culture of choiceful leadership. Graeme has the capacity, time and interest to carry out all of the Board’s work himself…  And mostly he does. Lacking awareness of the impact of this, he is disempowering and disengaging the rest of the directors, leading to unfulfilled potential. There’s also the risk that the organisation will be unable to find a new chair to take over when Graeme’s term is up unless the role is reconceptualised. Graeme’s shoes have become too big to fill.

With increased Perception, Graeme now has that awareness. He is beginning to be more inclusive and lead choicefully, ensuring the full capacity and resources of the board are harnessed.

Of course, acting choicefully also requires purpose. What do you want to achieve? Without a purpose or goal, it is impossible to measure the effectiveness of your awareness and capacity. ‘Choiceful leadership for what purpose?’ is a useful question to ask yourself. 

Consider your last board meeting

Think back to your last board meeting…

·         What might have happened in that meeting that was outside your awareness? The grimace of a fellow director, a potentially brilliant idea withheld, the impact you are having on others, something unspoken by the CEO that may have provided greater insight?

·         What might have remained outside the attention of the whole board?

·         And still with that same meeting, where were the moments when with greater capacity, you might have responded in another way? Capacity might include technical skill such as a greater understanding of a relevant legislation, or softer skills like the ability to influence others.

·         Where were the moments that with greater capacity the Board might have responded in another way?

·         How clear and universally accepted was the purpose of that Board meeting, the agenda items, and the interactions within them?

In other words, how choiceful was your leadership in that meeting? How choiceful was the board overall?

How skilled are you? Many people find the capacity question an easier one to answer.  Assessing your awareness can be harder. What efforts you are taking to find out what you don't know, individually and collectively?

Options may include:

·         360 Feedback

·         Feedforward – generate options to develop individual and team capacity

·         Board evaluation

·         Specific capacity development, such as communication skills

·         Team development that builds awareness and strengthens the capacity of the board to operate collectively

·         Motivational profiling to uncover and capitalize on the unconscious drivers of individual and team performance.

When there is a lack of Choicefulness

When there is a lack of Choicefulness at an individual or team level, it is useful to identify the key driver and focus development effort there:

·         Lack of purpose – build clarity.

·         Lack of capacity – build resources and skill.

·         Lack of awareness – build perception.

As a director, what you are doing to ensure you are acting choicefully? What you are doing to develop a board culture of choiceful leadership?

Note 2: All case studies have therefore been altered in name and in other identifying factors so as to preserve client anonymity without distorting the essential reality of the experience.