The cost of silence on your board

Posted on 13 Sep 2023

By Adele Stowe-Lindner

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Silence has its costs, argues ICDA general manager Adele Stowe-Lindner.

Stepping up into a role as chair of the board is a big deal.

ICDA general manager Adele Stowe-Lindner

Boards sometimes coast along unquestioningly, maintaining the status quo, for the sake of keeping things comfortable. After all, if you’re surrounded by people who look like you, sound like you and think like you, and you’re all getting along well and having an enjoyable time at board meetings, why rock the boat? But this cosiness may come at a significant cost. A culture of excessive stability, homogenous thinking, risk aversion, and unquestioning acceptance (or rejection) of everything that comes before the board could lead to:

  • straying from the organisation’s vision, strategy or purpose
  • a culture that accepts assumptions shared by others without question
  • a culture of exclusion
  • board stagnation
  • decision making that’s not supported by data
  • decision making without full board support (people agreeing to things they do not believe in)
  • a gradual slide away from procedures that serve the organisation
  • doing things a certain way because they’ve always been done that way
  • pent up frustration by board members about things they have never actually ever communicated.

Great leadership enables all board members to feel they can fully contribute to discussions and decisions and feel confident of being heard and understood, even if not agreed with.

Some behaviours that encourage open questioning, fulsome contributions and awkward conversations – in a good way – include:

  • scheduling meetings at times and in places that enable everyone to attend, either in person or online
  • being organised about the agenda, so everyone has the chance to plan
  • catering for specific needs, such as hearing and vision impairments
  • exhibiting empathy
  • suggesting solutions
  • inviting questions
  • inviting follow-up questions
  • listening respectfully
  • being specific about why a topic requires discussion
  • being realistic about outcomes
  • inviting others at the table to be in a team with you to consider ways forward together.

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