How CEOs deal with a disrespectful board

How CEOs deal with a disrespectful board

It was a big day in Sydney: keynote, coaching and meetings. You know the drill – run, run, run, and then you race to the airport in peak hour traffic to catch the flight back to Melbourne in time. You don’t even have time to go to the lounge and, wouldn’t you know it, we are leaving from gate 45, which is just the other side of the moon and, in heels, on that hard floor, is some trek.

So, there I am sitting in row 3F at 6.30pm, settling down to finally look at the emails I had uploaded before we left (yes, there is no internet on Virgin Domestic. Can you believe it in this day and age), when suddenly a waft of some delicious hot meal drifts into my hungry radar. Being just behind the business in the economy, my first thought was, “I have to get better clients who pay more” (that’s a joke, I love you all), but then I thought, you know this is cruelty to dumb animals. I am sure they don’t intend it, but if I’m honest, it feels plain rude on behalf of the airline to torture me in this way.

These days, you don’t even get the ‘chicken or beef’ option on domestic economy flights, and I was left conjuring a world of trapped convicts who had to smell their guard’s meals cooking while they, the convicts, were starving to death in dingy cells. I should get out more.

But I digress. The thing is that I am sure Virgin mean no ill, but I am left feeling hardly done by and disrespected by an unconscious behaviour of which they are not aware.

This leads me to the behaviour in board rooms. It is my experience that boards can be the destruction of a CEO unprepared to be interrupted, aggressively treated or ostracized, but there is a huge blind spot to the dynamics of the room. “Oh” I hear you say, “That’s not me or my fellow board members”. Well, as I said, it is a blind spot and have a good look at yourself sunshine, because I deal with the fallout every day of marvellous CEOs who are shattered and burned and the statistics back me with an exodus of CEOs who feel unloved, unsupported and disrespected.

I am not so focused on the theory or philosophical discussion about why this happens (but I don’t think I don’t have an opinion on it), but instead, I am focused on the tangible skills one can bring to the table to survive and thrive.

Be aggressive back

While this is the strategy I am most presented with as an answer, it is NEVER A GOOD one. As a 5’10” woman (OK 178 cm), I am larger than most women but do not overestimate my power. I am weak as a kitten compared to a man and, as a lamb to the slaughter, I am not prepared to fight to the death. So, if you are a 4’11” Malaysian woman, you have Buckley’s. And, of course, I am not speaking of actual physical combat, but sometimes the aggression is palpable in its invasion of vocal strength and psychological space. Might is not right, and two wrongs don’t make a right. So, drop the aggression strategy as soon as possible.

Have a mantra

I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again. Do you think the Hari Krishnas do it for a joke? It works. Adopt a mindset that is loving. As I have mentioned many times, I repeat (silently, obviously!) to myself the mantra “Forgive them, Lord. They know not what they do”, and there is tons of research to show that mantras put us in the right frame of mind to block other thoughts which may be more negative. What is yours?

Do a Hillary Clinton

Could we loosen up, please? Hillary Clinton had a tactic I adored, and that was to laugh. The more intense the discussion, the more Clinton will throw back her head and laugh. It’s a learned skill. It works. Try it.

Embrace the Butterfly gesture

This is one of my key ingredients. It means opening the arms, which is a gesture of trust but has other uses. It can also make you larger and can be used to hold the conversation. If interrupted, keep the arm up towards the person and then grab the conversation back when you can. It’s like fishing!

Give Feedback

There is no time to bitch to everyone who is not involved. If you are not happy, people need to know specifically what they are doing, how they feel about it, the reason behind that feeling, and what they can do instead. Having given feedback, if it doesn’t work, do it again and again until something changes. Of course, there are ways, times, and places to do it, but without going into depth, feedback is a skill we desperately need now.

Use the Baton Technique

Sometimes you just need to come to a program because these skills are not easily described, but this technique follows the pattern of an athletic baton race, where the baton represents the person holding the conversation. At some point you have to grab it, but you need to start running before you do and run like the wind once you have it.

Fire your voice

Firing your voice is a singing term for initiating sound on demand. Learning to fire your voice and keep it firing through your sentence is essential for credibility and trust. Boards smell weakness at 50 paces, and holding your breath has vocal consequences that undermine trust in something dreadful! As an x-singer, I always say when I am queen, I am making singing lessons compulsory for all executives, actually, for everyone. They are fabulous and really, my recommendation here is to find a teacher.

Adopt Frameworks for answers

There are many frameworks for different scenarios. Under stress, the last thing you want to do is ramble. Find a framework and use it. I could go on, but these are a few tips amongst my doctor’s bag of tricks. Please let me know your suggestions and now I will settle back into my convict squalor. . . and remind me to fly business next time.

Let me hear your thoughts.

Love Dr Louise Mahler

Join my exclusive 3-day retreat, 28th – 30th August 2024

at the stunning Gold Coast Imperial Hotel

Date: Wednesday – Friday, 28th – 30th August 2024

Location: The Imperial Hotel Gold Coast (previously Versace Hotel)

My Confident Leader Retreat take place over 3 days 2 nights with a focus on helping leaders build their executive presence and hone their own unique gravitas within a small group setting.

As well as confidence and skills development, those attending forge an invaluable network, sharing opportunities and forming lifelong friendships.

Transform your executive presence, collaborate with other senior leaders and stay ahead.

Create exceptional presence for better leadership and impact

In today’s fast-paced world, effective leadership is vitally important, especially during periods of stress and uncertainty. These programs places a strong emphasis on communication skills, particularly in emotionally charged situations, urging leaders to develop their presence, influence, and presentation abilities.

Leave a Reply

About Me

Dr Louise Mahler is a body language expert. With a focus on study of the mind-body relationship and business applications; providing practical inspiring improvement to global leaders.

Recent Posts

Follow Us

Sign up for our Newsletter