Search
Select region
Close filter

The Boardroom as Leadership Laboratory

Volume 5 | November 2019

In today’s environment of constant uncertainty and perpetual disruption, nothing stays the same for long and no single leader can do it all. More than ever, leaders must rely upon highly adaptable, coordinated teams. Yet CEOs tell us that they find it harder to develop their top team members than expected. We believe that exposing senior executives to Board work is a promising way to enhance that leadership development. Boardrooms are veritable living laboratories for leadership experimentation. Serving on boards forces executives out of their comfort zones and helps them better respond to the unexpected — one of the paramount requirements for CEO level leadership today.

Working on Boards gets top team members out of their culture bubbles and helps unleash the adaptability so needed today. Board-level perspectives immerse executives in specific topics and industries that can greatly broaden their scope of knowledge and experience. Cross-sector Board work, in particular, can help top teams assist CEOs in the challenging work of transforming their businesses. It also prepares them directly for work with their own Boards as a CEO, should they become one in the future.

Above all, Board work exposes executives to the idea of governance as distinct from that of management--where they otherwise spend all their time and energy. Board opportunities help potential successors begin to understand critical factors unique to the CEO role, like working with external stakeholders and succession planning. Overall, Board involvement brings several key competencies to the fore:

  • An understanding and appreciation for the protection of value in addition to the creation of value

  • Deeper strategic thinking by objectively evaluating plans as opposed to selling them

  • Knowledge of the dynamics of truly effective collective leadership (this is especially pertinent on Boards, where agreement must be gained without stifling dissenting voices)

In a recent survey Egon Zehnder conducted of Chief Executives, 45% of the 402 CEO respondents had no previous Board experience before assuming the role. That’s a sizable missed opportunity for deeper leadership development and role preparation. Sitting CEOs can promote this growth in several ways. Initially, they can invite more interchange between their own Board and their team. Beyond internal exposure, CEOs can actively help their colleagues land Board posts by connecting them to key gatekeepers who know when positions become available. They can also urge their team to attend top Board training programs which will spark further executive development even before landing a director assignment.

Many CEOs are reluctant to allow their direct reports the time to serve on Boards. This seems short-sighted. In most Board placements, we have seen the executive’s time expand, productivity increase and effective delegating to their own teams improve. Ultimately, the CEOs encouragement is essential to motivating direct reports to pursue an opening. Once they are committed to this end, our three part series, Path to the Boardroom, could be of help, from their initial inquiries, through interviews and upon starting a new director position.

We often hear CEOs say that they would hope any of their direct reports could succeed them. Board service is certainly one key element of that preparation, and it will also help CEOs immediately reap the rewards of team members with Board experience. Encouraging this exposure will prove beneficial to any leader who believes that a large part of their role is to develop other leaders.
 



 

< Volume 4
The Uncharted Leadership Voyage

Volume 6 >
The Call for Curiosity

 

Browse the Volumes

Volume 1: New Captains of Consciousness

Volume 1: New Captains of Consciousness

Infusing CEO leadership with social responsibility and accountability: Edelman reports that people are shifting their trust to relationships they feel they can influence, above… Read more

Volume 2: Supporting CEO Leadership

Volume 2: Supporting CEO Leadership

“We simply can’t learn to be more vulnerable and courageous on our own. Sometimes our first and greatest dare is asking for support.” Read more

Volume 3: Leading a Collaborative Enterprise

Volume 3: Leading a Collaborative Enterprise

CEO leadership is, by its very nature, a collective and relational endeavor. Still, we often speak of CEOs as if they are forces unto… Read more

Volume 4: The Uncharted Leadership Voyage

Volume 4: The Uncharted Leadership Voyage

The CEO turnover rate is at a record high and appears to be accelerating. How can we better prepare CEOs for today’s reality, where… Read more

Volume 5: The Boardroom as Leadership Laboratory

Volume 5: The Boardroom as Leadership Laboratory

CEOs struggle with developing their leadership teams; boardrooms are living labs for leadership experimentation. Why CEOs should expose their senior executives to board work… Read more

Volume 6: Cultivating Inquisitive Leadership

Volume 6: Cultivating Inquisitive Leadership

Curious, bold leadership is not something you simply have or don’t have; you build upon what is there, you learn it and continue to… Read more

Volume 7: CEOs and Stakeholder Capitalism

Volume 7: CEOs and Stakeholder Capitalism

CEOs face new requirements from stakeholders that calls for greater resilience and purposeful leadership. Read more

Volume 8: Demystifying Courageous Leadership

Volume 8: Demystifying Courageous Leadership

Coming to courageous leadership depends upon practice—it is the building up of small moments of courage, toning the cognitive and emotional muscles of boldness… Read more

Volume 9: In the Eye of the Storm

Volume 9: In the Eye of the Storm

Five tips for CEOs while they work to manage the business and create psychological and emotional safety for their employees during the COVID-19 crisis. Read more

Volume 10: Towards Scenario Planning in the Uncertainty of a Global Crisis

Volume 10: Towards Scenario Planning in the Uncertainty of a Global Crisis

After weeks of being immersed in immediate questions from COVID-19, CEOs are starting to tackle the challenge of preparing for what is next. Read more

Volume 11: Embracing Uncertainty to Accelerate to a Brighter Future

Volume 11: Embracing Uncertainty to Accelerate to a Brighter Future

All over the world, we are hearing CEOs ask the same question: What is the best way to lead and move forward when we… Read more

Volume 12: The Road Ahead for CEOs: Shifting Identity to Enable Change

Volume 12: The Road Ahead for CEOs: Shifting Identity to Enable Change

CEOs have stepped up like never before to do their part in accelerating the movement for justice and reconciliation forward. Read more

Volume 13: A Rising Tide: Creating Inclusive Systems of Leadership Selection

Volume 13: A Rising Tide: Creating Inclusive Systems of Leadership Selection

Since the U.S. erupted in racial protests, many CEOs have taken a public stand against systemic racism, pledging to help dismantle it. Read more

Volume 14: The Advancing Impact of CEO Engagement

Volume 14: The Advancing Impact of CEO Engagement

There is extensive speculation about the impact that leading through COVID-19 will have on the future of the CEO position. Have the past five… Read more

Volume 15: Beyond Resilience Narrowly Defined: The Practice and Impact of Positive Leadership

Volume 15: Beyond Resilience Narrowly Defined: The Practice and Impact of Positive Leadership

Principled, positive leadership is magnetic and indelible. It is what 2020 is calling for. Read more

Volume 16: Leveraging New Possibilities from Old Polarities

Volume 16: Leveraging New Possibilities from Old Polarities

Leaders today need to better manage polarities - but what are those polarities, and how do you reconcile them? Read more

Volume 17: CEO Leadership for a New Future

Volume 17: CEO Leadership for a New Future

The CEOs who seem to adjust best remain cognizant that “what got you here, won’t get you there.” Read more

Volume 18: Creating CEO Allyship for LGBTQ+ Inclusion

Volume 18: Creating CEO Allyship for LGBTQ+ Inclusion

By connecting on a shared human and empathetic level with their LGBTQ+ colleagues, CEOs have the means to enact real and lasting change, and… Read more

Volume 19: Revitalizing CEO Leadership

Volume 19: Revitalizing CEO Leadership

This is a promising moment in time for CEOs to consider how they want to show up as leaders, to listen for and look… Read more

Volume 20: Prioritizing People

Volume 20: Prioritizing People

CEOs are depending on their CHROs, asking: What else can we do to have a positive impact on employees and make a difference now… Read more

Volume 21: Creating New Pathways to Success

Volume 21: Creating New Pathways to Success

Five steps that take leaders through the process of devising options or alternative pathways to reach performance goals. Read more

Volume 22: Featuring “CEOs: Architects of Prosperity”

Volume 22: Featuring “CEOs: Architects of Prosperity”

Our new series, “CEOs: Architects of Prosperity,” has been created to highlight the expanding expectations for CEOs across a wide range of issues affecting… Read more

Volume 23: Balancing Acts: One Leader’s Approach Through Uncertainty

Volume 23: Balancing Acts: One Leader’s Approach Through Uncertainty

A lot of ink has been spilled around how to lead businesses through mounting complexity and uncertainty, but much of what might have been… Read more

Back to CEO Insights

Changing language

Close icon

You are switching to an alternate language version of the Egon Zehnder website. The page you are currently on does not have a translated version. If you continue, you will be taken to the alternate language home page.

Continue to the website

Back to top