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February 8, 2024

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The Governance Coach™

Is Your Board Manacled by the Miniscule?

I am shamelessly stealing this idea from a recent book, Life Work Legacy, by motivational speaker and friend Jeffrey Tobin. In a short essay – akin to a blog – titled “Gullible’s Travels,” he draws a leadership lesson from Jonathan Swift’s book Gulliver’s Travels. Gulliver is shipwrecked and wakes up in the land of the Lilliputians. He finds himself unable to move. He is staked to the ground by hundreds of tiny cords because he is a dangerous giant to the Lilliputians. As Tobin puts it, he is “manacled by the miniscule.”

As I read this, I was struck by the parallel to the situation of many boards. Yes, I’ve seen all of these:

Lion’s share of meeting time spent listening to reports on day to day processes by a parade of department heads.

Going over the budget with a fine-tooth comb, asking detailed questions about individual line items.

Hearing committee reports on internal human resources, marketing, you name it.

Deciding what colour to paint the boardroom.

Giving detailed instructions to the CEO about how to handle a particular situation.

Deciding on the menus for the annual meeting or annual banquet.

This list could go on ad infinitum, but you get the idea. Perhaps your board has been there.

Meanwhile, if the board is spending it’s time this way, who is looking ahead?  If Gulliver had spent some time in the crow’s nest of his ship, he might have avoided that shipwreck! 

Who is actually leading your organization into the future? Spend your valuable board time there – what are the range of possible futures your organization might be facing? Is the direction you are pointing the organization sustainable across that range? (Is your board actually even setting the direction, on behalf of the people for whom you are governing, or is that being done by default by the management – or not at all?) What are the potential dangers and risks the organization might be facing, and is it prepared to do so?

This is the stuff of governance. The actual leading – being ahead of the curve, setting the direction, Don’t be manacled by the miniscule details of management. That’s not your job.

PS. If you want an interesting read about leadership and management, check out Jeffrey’s book, available on Amazon.

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