Boards, Baggage, and Leading in Adversity

Boards_Baggage_Adversity It was a difficult—some might say ugly—Board of Director’s meeting.  With the association “bleeding red ink” and its reserves almost depleted, the Board desperately wanted to hear a plan, any plan, for saving their organization.  The new, first-time CEO was fighting fires on every front—marginal cash-flow, overpriced office space, overworked staff, too many expensive outsourced services, and stagnating revenues.  In a borrowed meeting room, facing an anxious Board, the CEO’s turnaround plan was laid-out in excruciating detail.  Pro-forma financial and cash flow statements, clear, vivid graphs, detailed severance agreements, outlines for early termination of leases, cost cutting steps, and finally the potential sources of revenues including increases for dues, rising education program fees, and two new services with near certain potential to generate much-needed extra cash flow and revenue.  The case for cost reductions and revenue growth sufficient to save the Association from extinction were clearly presented.  The tension in the room was palpable and the debate about the much-needed change went on at considerable length.

It didn’t take long to realize that as good as the plans were, it would be the proposed dismissal of long-time staff that would ultimately derail the conversation.  Several influential, and out-spoken Board members were unwilling to allow termination of specific senior staff leaders.  By insisting these favored staffers be retained, they were severely hobbling any chance of financial recovery.  Surprisingly, the rest of the Board had no stomach for pushing back against their out-spoken brethren.  The vote in support of the turnaround plan went down to defeat.  With no clear alternative at the hand, various Board members engaged in an acrimonious debate– blaming each other broadly for the failures, ridiculing current and former staff–and in short order adjourned the meeting.

Frustrated, demoralized and without a clue as what to do next the new CEO left the Board meeting.  As she drove away, she noticed a member of the Board stopped along the roadway changing a flat tire.  She instinctively stopped to offer her help.  The two of them struggled with the task of changing the deflated tire. As they worked side-by-side, the new CEO shared her feelings about the Board meeting, the lengthy preparation, detailed presentations, challenging debates, and the exhausting, hard work of it all.  At a lull in the conversation the Board member glanced up and in almost a whisper quietly said, “You know, sometimes even your best just isn’t good enough.”

In that moment an important leadership lesson came to light.  You can do your best.  You can be all you can be.  Sometimes though, you still need to demand better of yourself and others.  And that’s what leadership is all about—being better, striving to overcome adversity, and pushing harder for extraordinary outcomes.  Leadership is about changing, adapting, being resilient, sharpening your skills, and working to be better, stronger, and smarter every day.  Make this your leadership mantra in 2016 — Change. Adapt. Overcome. Be Better. Be Stronger. Be Smarter.  Your followers are counting on it.

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