The Case for a Strong Board

Posted: November 9, 2014 by Bill Cunningham in People, Planning
Clay Mathile, Founder of IAMS

Clay Mathile, Founder of IAMS

If you’re willing to work and subject yourself to the scrutiny of other’s [creating a board] is the best investment you’ll ever make in your life.”

     — Clay Mathile, Aileron’s founder and former chairman of Iams Corporation.

Entrepreneurs carry a reputation of being self-made, uber-confident and highly capable business people. It takes guts, chutzpah and moxie to create something out of nothing – especially when others can’t see around the corners that you can. As a deep subject matter expert in your field, you are the reigning monarch leading your team into battle with great products, great vision and great expectations.

bill-cunninghamYet, great entrepreneurs build a network of support to fill in the gaps – you just can’t be great at everything. When you run into challenges that need some brain power to solve – who are you going to call? Maybe Ghostbusters can help, but more than likely you should rely on the wisdom of a well-formed and functioning board of directors or board of advisors.
So if you have never created, recruited or managed a board – how do you get started? Aileron offers several courses in board creation and management including sessions for board members to learn how to become most effective. Assuming you can’t fit that into your schedule, you should be begin by putting together a list of attributes of ideal board members. Diversity on a board is great – familiarity on a board is not so great. You want to have different perspectives from industry and functional areas to add value to your interactions. Talent that represents finance, marketing, sales, your specific vertical, organizational (people) expertise can be extremely helpful. Recruiting your accountant, attorney and your Uncle Joe may not give you the answers you need to tough questions.

So once you have recruited your “A” team, what do you have them do? A recent webinar by the National Council of Urban Indian Health put it succinctly: The board members have two roles: Steering and Rowing. Steering activities include setting the vision, guiding the culture and make sure that resources are used wisely. Rowing activities let board members fill in gaps to make customer connections, help raise money and being an advocate for the company in the outside world. As long as the board determines that the company’s resources are enough to execute their plan, the role of rowing is minimal. Steering, more formally known as governance, cannot be delegated or substituted. The NCIUH webinar asserts that “ … governing is a collective act – It takes a group to test, challenge, and debate the assumptions and subjective preferences that are at the core of governing work.”

Most entrepreneurs are reluctant to form strong boards. Effective boards add a lot of extra work to the founder and create accountability that decreases flexibility in the eyes of the entrepreneur. History shows that effective boards enhance the value of outcomes and make for a stronger enterprise. Strong entrepreneurial leaders know this and work towards building a strong support network through a strong board. As a founder, if you can’t decide where to start – try the President’s course at Aileron for a grounding in building a more successful enterprise. You can find out more at www.Aileron.net.

Read more articles from other thought leaders on our website at http://www.cincyentre.com.

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