Governance and the Collective Unconscious

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Recently, I attended an event on governance and while I was there, I listened to a lot of stories about boards and executives.

One fairly new exec told me of entering an organization where the board did not know about (and so they could not tell her about) a deficit of hundreds of millions. They sternly held her feet to the fire as she made it up in less than a year and still, there is an undercurrent of disappointment in her performance. Otherwise why would the deficit have appeared and lasted nearly a year?

A woman told me that she was in a circular pattern with her board, receiving a lot of over-the-top positive feedback interspersed with messages of grave concern about her capacity. The grave concern moments required long stream of consciousness meetings. The positivity moments included her performance evaluation and other formal acknowledgements. 

A man said that he was trying to usher order and systems into a 20-year-old religious organization and was being foiled and demonized. He was a certain linear type of guy hired for his linearity and order.

Welcome to the highly repetitive world of executive-governance relationships.

My five-year-old grandson loves to talk about “patterns.” My daughter told him that he could take the bus or be taken to school by her and he said, “I know! Let’s set up a pattern! You can take me two days and I will take the bus two days!” But the more complicated patterns of our lives—where we interminably repeat the most common mistakes of others with great drama as if it is the first time such a thing has happened—is all too achingly human and lovable but also very painful and it can hold back our work. Breaking such patterns can be enormously freeing.

I’d like to ask our readers, first, what patterns are you involved in with your board? What questions do you have about it?

And if you have ever managed to break out of a pattern for any length of time, all the better. What made the difference? What were the leverage points? Please no commercials here. Just tell us the story.

Meanwhile, here is an article for you titled “Board Stories Involving Humans.” Add one here.


Note: Several paragraphs were missing from the Editor’s Notes newsletter that was sent on October 31st, NPQ apologizes for the error.

  • dclaudew

    My Board of five officers managed to break out of a pattern of ill-will. Our most disruptive member was also one of our hardest working members, generally taking the role of Contracting Officer with any of our contracts (reserve study, lawn care, etc). He quit in the middle of one of his frequent arguments with another Board member. Now with four members, we all realize how much we need each other to spread out the workload. That might be a key for all Boards, to appreciate each member for his or her contributions rather than complaining whenever such a member votes with the minority.