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In any setting, arrogance is dangerous.  As a society, we appreciate confidence as a characteristic of leadership.  However, that appreciation wanes when confidence crosses over the line to arrogance – marked by a sense of immunity from error or folly.  Why?  Because society knows all too well that time and time again arrogance makes one vulnerable to mistakes.  Perhaps nowhere is this vulnerability more evident than in the boardroom.  Today’s headlines are filled with stories of lapses by boards of directors at all levels – public, private and non-profit companies.  I believe that in almost every one of these instances director arrogance plays a part.  The danger in the boardroom setting is that instead of just one, you have the potential for several arrogant individuals who believe that because they have been appointed as a corporate board member that they can do no wrong on behalf of the company.  So how do boards combat director arrogance?  There isn’t just one solution, but one of the most effective means is through board development practices.

At the behest of its governance committee, every board should take the opportunity at least once a year to step back and engage in some form of board development that re-focuses them on their board member responsibilities.  I think one of the best ways to accomplish this is by inviting an outside speaker at a regularly scheduled board meeting.   There is no shortage of these so-called boardroom experts who are capable of delivering an effective talk on a topic such as developments in corporate governance best practices.  Director arrogance is often expressed by a feeling that their way of doing things is the best way.   I believe it is important for directors to hear, through case studies and demonstrable examples that their current way of doing things can in fact be a source of problems.

A lecture on corporate governance best practices isn’t the only way to participate in board development.  I recently attended a professional conference where the keynote speaker was Professor Ron Adner of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.  Professor Adner delivered a tremendous talk on how to gain a new perspective on innovation (based on his acclaimed book, The Wide Lens).  The talk itself had nothing to do with the subject matter of the conference, but I can tell you that almost all of the attendees agreed it was one of the highlights of the day because the lessons in Professor Adner’s lecture had broad applicability, including in the boardroom. Incentivizing board members to attend outside industry events and conferences is another effective way to continue board development.

Board development does not always have to involve an outside speaker.  Many boards, particularly those that may be having trouble coming together, will set time aside each year to engage in proven team building exercises.  Whatever exercise it may be, the point is boards need to take a step back every once in a while to ensure that like the companies they are charged with stewarding, they are at all times pursuing a course of excellence.

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