How To Be A Good Board Member
Mark Suster wrote a post this weekend laying out some rules for being a good board member before the meeting, in the meeting, and outside of the meeting. It is a very good list. I particularly like his rules for outside of the board meeting and agree with him that is the most important part of being a board member.
I try to follow these rules except “let others speak.” That is a joke but I am known for taking up a lot of airtime in meetings, not only board meetings. It is something I’ve been working on for thirty-five years and something I expect I will be working on for the rest of my life. I just get so into it and can’t help myself.
Which leads me to my rule for being a good board member.
It comes down to one word.
If you care, really care, deeply care, like the way a parent cares for a child, you will be a good board member.
Of course, you have to do a lot of work; preparation work, people time, relationship work, reading, studying, etc to be good at this job.
But all that comes easy if you just deeply care about the company, the people running it, and everybody in and around it.
Caring. It’s a great intrinsic motivator. It helps you bring your attention to detail, thoroughly investigate a problem or solution, and summon the determination to see things through.
Awesome choice of a word, Fred! I’m gonna pull you up when you screw up, I’ll have your back during difficult times, and I’m here to help in any which way I can, all of it can be described by that one word “care”.
being a good listener is the neglected half of the art of the conversation. P.S. One mouth, two ears. I think for good reason.
I always feel the hardest part of “caring” is to make sure you are capable of offering worthy opinions. Been to so many board meetings where directors either pull some crap out of their asses or say some meaningless, diplomatically correct comments. So few people can offer concrete, actionable advice that can lead to constructive discussions.
Now, you realize that your position is wildly disrespectful, contentious, rude, crude, a skunk at a Victorian garden party, politically INcorrect, ungrateful, strongly against the implicit norms, not fitting in, disruptive, argumentative, socially outré, combative, etc.!!!!!GOOD for you!Ah, sacred cows make the best hamburger!Honest, I postedhttps://avc.com/2019/02/how…andhttps://avc.com/2019/02/how…before reading your post.Keep up the good work!!
Fred, I can vouch for the fact that you have been taking up a lot of airtime for almost 40 years. Glad to hear you have been working on it for 35…
Giving a shit is a prerequisite to most things of value.Good one.
What if you care too much? If you think (confidently) you know better than the CEO how to deal with certain pivotal stuff, you try to coach them but they don’t listen and revolt like a teenager. Do you have a duty to care more about the company and the CEO, or your LPs in those situations? (hint: easy answer would be to say “both” but I know you don’t take the easy way out with answers)
Caring for the cusfoner of the startup and thinking of their needs is also very important for board members. At the end, it is all about the customer, giving them a better experience and helping them save or make money/time.More empathy for the customer and wanting to understand them is also critical to getting to the source of the market opportunity, why something can become a star or a dud, and what something can become vs. what it is now.
Perhaps @fredwilson:disqus the issue isn’t you talk too much, perhaps it’s other don’t talk enough and there isn’t enough time allocated for everyone to share as much as they feel they can or need to.
Meetings with a lot of talking, e.g., BoD meetings, from arrogance, posturing, etc., tend to go off the rails into moonbeam, AOC, total wack-o land.I got a good lesson from my FiL that he used in Board meetings: Sit, say nothing, indicate nothing, maybe take some notes on what others say, and when near the end when everyone has had their say, pick some of the most important nonsense, just something quite specific, and do a devastating, fact-based, calm, rational attack on just that one point and, thus, discredit the people pushing that point and, really, the whole off the rails, wack-o discussion. Then propose a simplistic, summary ending position and be quiet. Basically, cut the meeting off at the knees and make all the discussion moot.There was never any hope for anything good and at all thoughtful from the meeting anyway, so just make the meeting moot.
@fredwilson do you have a controlling type of personality?
What do you think? 🙂
“Care” is nice, but from what I’ve seen of BoDs and more important business, and MUCH more important technology, and much, Much, MUCH, MUCH more important unique, world-class, dominating technology, really the ONLY case of interest in information technology startups and VC investing, a BoD member, no matter how caring and no matter how hard working, bright, or experienced, can be rarely more than a waste of time for the CEO and the company and really, likely a dangerous, loose cannon on the deck of the startup ship tossed in rough waters.Why? The CEO and the company have special qualifications, background, knowledge, experience, and ideas and have been thinking hard about the company 24 x 7 from the start. A BoD member can compete with that about as well as a bright 7th grader quarterback can compete with Tom Brady — not a chance! At best get some elementary pointers from Brady and otherwise waste his time.I found a standard situation: Person A working really hard at a project, for months or years, and meets person B, generally plenty smart and experienced, and talks about the project, right away person B goes through several, standard same ideas that person A and friends went through way back at the beginning and, net, is just far behind with no chance of making a contribution at all soon. Not a chance. Again, we’re talking that 7th grader giving his bright ideas to the unique, world class guy, Tom Brady. No 7th grader, no person B, is that bright. Ain’t gonna happen. “Care” doesn’t change this.The broad idea of a corporation with a BoD is good, but no way can the BoD actually “help” the company in any significant way, and nearly all efforts are just dead weight on the overloaded back of the CEO and C-suite. If the BoD cares and wants to help, then show up on the night shift and grab a broom or a mop.
Compassion is the killer app 😉
Having read Mark’s post i’m minded to ask one question. Typically how many people sit on the boards you sit on? How wondering how many directors a CEO has to find the time to speak with prior to the in-person board meeting.