Why you need a cranky old bastard on your board

There are too many boards with soft inexperienced directors. You know who I’m talking about – the ones who are more concerned with keeping people happy than making the hard decisions; the ones who avoid confrontation; the ones who think they always know best (when they don’t); the ones who think that if they ignore a problem, it’ll go away.

Cropped shot of an unhappy senior boss standing next to the table in the office


The simple fact is that many retail failures can be avoided if you have tough, experienced leaders asking the hard questions. You need to solve problems together as a team, and that means embracing confrontation.

Look, I understand that no one likes conflict but you’re no longer children, so it should be easy to remain civil during a conversation and avoid this. Confrontation and conflict are two very different things, and board meetings need to be a bit confrontational in order to be productive.

That said, you need to tread carefully to make confrontation work for you and your business. Here’s how you can do it.

Choose the right time to ask questions

Bad timing can prevent effective confrontation and communication. When emotions are high, people have a tendency to act without thinking. Negative feelings may provoke anger, and that isn’t what you’re trying to achieve. Choose a time when you can prevent interruptions and a private place where everyone can state their opinions freely. Lead others by asking open-ended and probing questions.

Stick to the facts

I don’t care what John in sales or Lucy in marketing told you on the grapevine. Stick only to the things you know are true. State facts. I’ve witnessed too many incidents where co-workers have gone at one another like bulls in a china shop as a result of hearsay. Always ensure your board focus on real issues from the start and have evidence to substantiate what you’re stating.

Tell your board what you want

Be upfront and honest from the word go. Don’t beat around the bush, or you’ll provoke angst and waste time. Whether you’re looking for a change, commitment, or whatever, tell your board and allow time to let emotion settle. When declaring what you want, it’s also crucial that you state what you are going to do to make it happen. You’ll often find others want the exact same outcome as you.

Remain cool and confident

We all feel a bit touchy when told something we don’t want to hear, but it isn’t an excuse to act like a child. You’re allowed to have emotions, but you need to remain in control of them, regardless of what the other person says. Out-of-control reactions and outbursts will fuel negative emotions, as well as add to your own. Go into your board meetings with a positive attitude and keep your cool.

Listen, listen and listen

Most people like to be heard, especially senior level executives and management. While it’s essential to know what you want and put your point across, you must also be prepared to listen to different viewpoints. Someone may even suggest or state something that you weren’t previously aware of and that may or may not change your opinion or desired outcome. Never argue. Confront and listen.