|Author Name:||Andrew Kakabadse- Henley Business School|
|Date:||Jul 02 2020|
Research from international head hunting firm, Odgers Berndtson, reveals that only 15% of executives believe their leadership will succeed during times of disruption. This is particularly relevant in the current environment, where 88% of senior managers expect even wider and more severe disruption over the coming five years.
Most leaders have every right to be concerned about a growing focus that concentrates unduly on the CEO. It is leadership itself that should be the central focus, not the leader, and our ongoing research has identified that boards which collectively fail to understand and disregard an overt focus on the CEO, instead of harnessing “positive tension”, are the most likely to find themselves in the midst of a crisis.
The make-up of boards has much to do with this. They are largely composed of experienced and accomplished individuals possessing strong personalities and perspectives on how the organisation should be governed.
The issue of how boards maintain their functionality in a crisis is addressed by focusing on two crucial areas: firstly, the need to establish and foster positive tension between individuals, and secondly by defusing destructive conflict before it emerges.
Despite this, high-profile cases of board clashes and meltdown remain all too common.
Latent board conflict simmers over clashes of opinion on organisational purpose, competitive advantage and strategic direction. Many of these subjects are unvoiced because of a fear of making circumstances worse or even encouraging retaliation.
Such submerged tensions slowly erode relationships, upset alignments and can cause inertia and paralysis. So is your board dysfunctional? To find out, it is important to explore how well disagreements are handled, and whether board tensions are fully surfaced and discussed.
What is positive tension?
While tension is seen as a positive and necessary force for any effective board, conflict is alternatively disruptive and detrimental. As one of our board interviewees explained: ‘Conflict is undesirable. Conflict means outright hostility, but tension is good.’
Positive tension is both a result and a mindset. Damaging differences between leaders can be turned into positive outcomes through the implementation of six critical disciplines (see below).
The chair is ideally positioned to resolve much of the tension in a boardroom. They have the mandate to intervene and harmonise board relationships, particularly if the company secretary and senior board members are willing and able to act in unison.
Consider the following practices to ensure board tension is healthy:
Boards are renowned for having the potential to become hotspots of conflict and tension, while failures of effective leadership and management can result in dire consequences for all stakeholders. Make sure you identify and manage board tension in order to maintain functionality when a crisis hits.
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