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One of the first challenges a CEO faces after taking investment is a board meeting. CEOs have a responsibility to communicate the state of the business and the plans of the leadership to the board. It’s a legal and fiduciary responsibility. But looking beyond this, the best CEOs leverage the board effectively, empowering directors to work for the business.

A CEO must maximize the impact of every one of his teams – engineering, product, marketing, sales and the board of directors. I know it’s a bit strange to think about the board as another team, but this strategy works because it applies the same management process across all teams.  As in every team, each board member brings different skills to bear. It’s the CEO’s job to figure out how and when to put board members to work for the company using the typical management process:

Step 1 is informing the team of the current state of affairs and the goal. Step 2 is inspiring the team that the goal is worth attaining. And Step 3 is instructing the team how to achieve this goal. Inform, Inspire and Instruct.

By and large, the biggest challenge at routine board meetings is misguided help. I’m guilty of this. Board members, even the most active ones, aren’t living and breathing the business the way the CEO or employees are. They simply aren’t in the trenches. In my desire to help, I ask questions and drive conversations that are tangential to the CEOs agenda and goals. These are infinitely frustrating. The CEO is not getting the help needed. And I’m wasting the most precious asset of the CEO: time.  I need to be told how to help.

The best way I’ve found to solve this communication breakdown is a slide in the board deck that contains 4 things (I’ve heard this called the Reed Hasting’s method):

  1. What’s going well
  2. What’s going poorly
  3. What the CEO worries about
  4. My homework

Instantly, I know what the CEO is thinking. I begin to understand the business from her point of view. I know what keeps her up at night. And I know what I should worry about. Most importantly, I’m certain of where I should focus my help. And I can give the CEO my best as a board member.

Remember: Inform, Inspire, Instruct

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3 thoughts on “Inform, Inspire, Instruct

  1. My CEO shows our team certain slides of the board deck on a regular basis. From an employee’s perspective, I’ve always found the most helpful slide is the 3rd ‘thing’ you listed above (What the CEO worries about). It can be a great relief to see that my CEO is worrying about the same things I have been worrying about as I no longer have to internalize those concerns after learning he (in my case) is already taking care of them.

    • Your CEO does a fantastic job of articulating what he’s worried about. And the very same feeling of relief you feel is shared b the board.

      Just another example of why communication is so critical in startups. Thanks for commenting, Dan.

  2. Pingback: Your startup’s board deck | ex post facto

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