What drives those in the driver's seat: want a higher level of engagement on your board? Here are suggestions for CEOs to more effectively interact with board members and, likewise, for directors to better interact with their CEO.

Author:Dow, Liz

I WAS RECENTLY ASKED TO SPEAK at a conference for experts in board governance. The assignment was to share ideas about engaging and retaining board members. My initial reaction was that you engage and retain board members by meeting performance goals. As a board member, however, I understand that engagement is more complex. The concept of "fit," which is so important in hiring and retaining employees, is just as important as when working with board members.

I started my career as a consultant for the Hay Group. Hay uses the late Harvard psychologist David McClelland's work on motives to explain leadership behavior. (McClelland founded McBer & Company, now Hay/McBer.) We would look at executives' need for achievement, affiliation, and power as part of a battery of tests to determine whether someone was a good "fit" for a job. In my current work in board placement and effectiveness at Leadership Philadelphia, I apply McClelland's principles to board engagement. Understanding the underlying motives of a CEO and board members gives each a better sense of how to work together more effectively, as well as an explanation of areas of frustration and disconnection as a team.

The ideas that follow can be used as a framework for CEOs and boards to understand one another better and to interact more effectively as a team.

Understanding and acceptance

When people with similar motives work together, they tend to understand each other and want to do similar things. While diverse motives benefit organizations, people with different motives may have a hard time understanding or accepting one another. Furthermore, they may impute intentions to one another that are simply not there, causing frustration and undermining a team's effectiveness.

Exhibit 1 describes the three key motives of achievement, affiliation, and power and their attendant behaviors, while Exhibit 2 matches up the motive drives of board members with their best board culture fit. The suggestions in Exhibits 3 and 4 are intended to help CEOs and directors to understand and accept one another's similarities and differences. This information can be used to improve board selection, engagement, and retention, and to help boards and CEOs work together more effectively.

EXHIBIT 1: Motives 101--what they look like and why we care Psychologist David McClelland explained that motives--the drives that underlie behaviors--manifest themselves in predictable patterns of behavior. He described them (in gross...

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