You can’t solve tomorrow’s challenges with today’s solutions. This is why CEOs are expected to demonstrate “ambidextrous leadership”, simultaneously exploiting what is and exploring what is to come. This requires effectively bringing together different disciplines and mindsets. Yet many of the boards that are supervising the most promising companies working on tomorrow’s solutions are often still ruled by traditional discipline. Why? Beats me, especially knowing that 70-80% of venture board members add negative value. 1 Let that sink in… negative value?!
This is a plea for a “new style” of board membership. Where we invite new disciplines, diversity and creativity into the board room and open up the floor for a different debate. Where soft controls are as important as hard controls, and where sustainability and innovation lead the agenda. And for that, we need you dissonants out there! Yeah, you, the one always asking the difficult questions and often misunderstood or undervalued. It’s time to step up and claim that board position you aspire to, or it’s your time to shine when you’ve already secured one!
A new type of board
Let’s take a look at the word dissonant. It is a musical term for two or more notes that don’t sound pleasant together. While consonants – the static “no problem” sounds – go easy on the ear, dissonants ensure tension in a musical piece. Over the past centuries it has often been used in music to stress a dramatic word or a harrowing textual turn. 2 Although it has only been more widely embraced in the 21st century, Mozart already used it in 1787 in his ‘Ein musikalischer Spass KV 522’. 3
Well now it’s time to embrace and invite the “dissonant”’ into the board room. The time where board responsibilities “only” comprised checks and balances, advice, and expertise are long gone. These times ask for boards actively mirroring management, supporting and guiding them whilst navigating the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world. I’d like to argue that bringing dissonants into the board room will create the “vital tension”, or the healthy potential energy, necessary to ignite new perspectives – breaking through deadlocks and issues – and ensure sustainable business models.
Building relationships with people is what makes companies successful, yet it is exactly the factor that gets lost the further up in an organization we go. That is why it is crucial to have a representative in the board that draws attention to the soft controls: behaviour, culture and reputation and with that shedding a light on potentially undervalued elements crucial for future-proof business operations – internally and externally.
Any change is about people; closely monitoring ánd acting on employee behaviour is vital to make it to the next phase of the growth journey – knowing that conflicts precede the behavioural change necessary for that next step. Culture provides a valuable source of creativity and creation, especially in the light of defining tomorrow’s values and solutions. Companies are measured and judged on those values of the future.
Installing the antenna in the board room
Closely monitoring society and behaviour around you will not only provide opportunities to integrate sustainability into your business operations, I’d like to argue it is essential to stay in business in the long run. So it’s time to install that organizational ánd societal antenna in the board room! How? Here’s some thoughts to start ensuring the board room dynamics reflect both the organizational as well as the societal lens and become “ambidextrous”.
- Bring in board members representing new “disciplines” like innovation and creativity, complementing the traditional disciplines.
- Forge a healthy interaction between them by making innovation, sustainability, diversity & inclusion as important as finance, legal, risk and sales/marketing.
- Deem soft controls as important as hard controls, really bringing back what makes people people in the board room.
- Ask the uncomfortable questions, create a healthy level of friction between board & MT!
- And last but not least: apply The Art of Reframing, reframing challenges/problems into opportunities, rather than thinking in terms of limitations of the current status quo. Imagine just how powerful it will be to look at the world as it could be, not just as it is. As an example, a reframe I love from The Art of Reframing 4: Mauritius as the largest ocean state in the world, rather than the smallest island state.
So how did the dissonant make it in the musical industry? In the centuries after Mozart embraced it, the dissonant has gone from undervalued to playing an important role in orchestras. “The closer the twenty-first century approached, the more the dissonance became equivalent to the consonant as a sound. An extreme example is atonal music, in which the position of a note in relation to a key no longer plays a role. This removes the feeling that a dissonant consonance needs to be “dissolved”.” 5
I sure hope this moment is close for the dissonant in the board room as well.
To all aspiring dissonants out there: it’s not going to be easy, but someone’s gotta do it. Now more than ever. For those that have managed to secure a board seat already and all of us that aim to obtain one in the (near) future: let’s always speak up and “never tolerate brilliant assholes”! 6
Stay authentic! 🤘🏽
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