Emily Post is one of the best known experts on etiquette and manners. But there are countless others providing advice on how to behave. There are trainings, books and a myriad of articles on business etiquette, social etiquette and manners of all types.
This guidance tends however, to end outside the boardroom doors. Perhaps, we assume that by definition board directors have reached the pinnacle of business and as such have their manners down pat. Think again. Discerning board directors, like many others in positions of power and influence, need to regularly check in with themselves and measure their awareness of and adherence to the following basic boardroom manners:
1. Don’t be late
Board meetings typically have an agenda packed from beginning to end. There are presentations to be made and decisions to be reflected upon. It is simply bad form to show up late. Late not only refers to the beginning of the meeting, but post breaks for lunch and other refresh activities. Aside from the disruption that one late director can cause, this behavior sends a message of discourtesy to the others in the boardroom.
2. Curb the online correspondence
We have all seen the signs: fervent downward glances, subtle finger movements and most obvious, a lack of engagement in the conversation. To preempt this, some boards have begun requesting that smartphones be left outside the boardroom. We should be able to control our impulse to look at our inbox every 90 seconds even if there is a lull or the meeting veers into the mundane. Directors come together for a very short time period and if everyone is distracted by their online correspondence the effectiveness of the meeting decreases exponentially.
3. Do not monopolize the conversation (a.k.a. let others participate)
I have been repeatedly told stories of the director who hijacks the conversation at every turn. Yes, this must be managed by the Chairperson or Lead Director but it can be fraught with challenge. It requires an enormous amount of diplomacy and tact to redirect a conversation without alienating anyone.
Monopolized conversations can be especially difficult for a director newly joining the team. It takes time and experience to understand the company, industry and nuances of the board. Add to this a fellow director with a need to commandeer the conversation and the challenge to integrate and effectively participate becomes almost insurmountable.
4. Don’t interrupt
We may know exactly where the person is going in their thought. We may have reached the end of their sentence 30 seconds ago. We may be impatient to move the conversation along or even in the different direction. Nevertheless, don’t interrupt the speaker. Give him or her the courtesy of finishing their sentence or train of thought. We all process our ideas in different and unique ways and being gracious enough to let a speaker finish can lead to all sorts of learning and new insights. P.S. you may be wrong about where they were heading anyway!
5. Come prepared
Read and even reread all materials sent to you prior to the board meeting. Reflect and formulate your thoughts and appropriate questions. Your input will only be as good as the groundwork you created. As a board director one of your primary fiduciary duties is the “Duty of Care.” This refers to the idea that directors must act in a prudent and informed manner. You cannot do this if you don’t prepare. It is central to your responsibility as a board director not to mention good manners in that you can aptly participate in the conversation.
These five boardroom manners are about as elemental as possible. They are also indispensable to your work as a board director. Actually, these behaviors are recommended and appropriate to almost any type of business meeting. So, practice them regularly and when the time comes to join a new board you will be way ahead with many less things to worry about. And that is when the real work can begin!
Patricia Lenkov heads up Agility Executive Search, a boutique firm she founded in 2008. Agility provides bespoke search services to companies of all sizes globally. She was previously an executive recruiter with both Heidrick & Struggles as well as Spencer Stuart. You can connect with her at AgilityExecutiveSearch.com.
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