Smart Is Not Enough



When Harv finished walking us through the details of the SWOT report, I commended him for an analysis more thorough than I had seen with any other company. Appropriately, he deflected credit to others on the team. And clearly, they had contributed and fully understood the complexities of their situation. This board and management team was smart.

If only that was enough! Within the next hour of our long-term strategy session, this ‘smart’ group did a number of ‘dumb’ things. Philippe and Ben both shared a habit of adding snide remarks when others spoke. Rachel countered every volley with an accusation about one of them. Not only did Harv allow this to continue, he openly chuckled at both sides of the exchanges. While a pattern of bickering may not spell doom, in this case it was just the window dressing on deeper problems. There was a curious combination of competition around the table mixed with a pervasive lack of accountability. Every excuse for not getting something done was paired with a claim of greatness in some other way. The group had become so familiar with this modus operandi that it was almost a comfort zone for them—a very unhealthy norm.

This ‘smart’ group did a number of ‘dumb’ things.

Contrast that group with the board of a particular national charity. This board committed to dialling up its ‘healthy’ quotient, investing time to understand the background experience and strengths of each director, to reinforce meaningful debate with a focus on exploring options without attacking ideas, and to continually focus on what is best for the whole organization. With a couple of years of progress toward this end, the organization held a special board meeting in an appealing location, with spouses of all directors invited to join as a thank you for their sacrifices. For a two-hour component of the meeting, spouses were encouraged to sit in and hear about the work of the board and the charity. At the end, they were asked to give some reactions. One spouse is a CEO of a large energy company. His feedback spoke powerfully to the new health of the board:

“Your board meeting puts my company’s board to shame. We gather and get the business done. But it’s mostly like ships passing in the night. This board has done the hard work of truly getting connected, so the rigor of your dialogue and the candor of your comments have actually alarmed me. In the name of efficiency, my board is polite and surface… and when it’s not surface, it’s toxic; your board is courageous and connected. I’ve heard a level of challenge and debate that made me uncomfortable, but all of you are unfazed by it—it’s just normal for you. And I wish that were true for me.”

Of course your board and management team must be Smart. But it is not enough. Great teams are Smart and Healthy.

#organizationalhealth #leadership #smart