It’s lonely at the top. Or at least it can be. As a first-time CEO the biggest adjustment for me is knowing that I’m now where the buck stops. I’ve held other C-suite roles before this in which I’ve advised, made recommendations, but there was always someone else making the final call. Now that’s on me.
Yet no CEO is really alone. That’s where the board comes in. Due to the pandemic, this month I will meet my board of directors in person for the first time. Because of some natural movement on our board, I got the chance to help build most of the current board—people who have now become my boss. People who I can look to as confidantes and mentors. It was a first for me. Board members spend short amounts of intense time together, and the conversations aren’t always easy. I know I’ve been around more than one tense boardroom table.
So, in bringing together a new group of people in a high-pressure situation like a board of directors, it’s important that they are passionate and curious about the company, its business and the problem that it solves, and improving business results—made easier when they each have strong and successful track records in their respective areas. They each need to bring something unique yet complementary to the table. And to be truly successful, they each should feel a sense of pride and achievement in what they accomplish together to move the company forward.
Mining for passion, diversity, and alignment with our purpose
The role of a board is to oversee management of the company’s business, including its strategic plan, and throughout the planning process represent a number of different stakeholders. To do that, they should be representative of a company’s entire audience—not only from the perspective of what they do, but who they are.
Backgrounds and experience, both inherent and lived, play a part in how we all view our roles and approach business. Having the right mix of people in the room leads to a wider and more inclusive perspective to look at projects, products, and initiatives. Diverse points of view are key.
Sought-after board members have distinct criteria they use to assess what boards they join. The criteria we heard consistently was the need for a connection with the culture, a product or service that matters, great people, an innovative and disruptive spirit, and the ability to make a difference.
The best candidates are those who are interested in helping build a great company for the long term, who can advise on how to maximize shareholder value, and who have a perspective and opinion on how to do that. The easiest way to assess that is mining for passion—for the space, the company, and the potential that lies ahead.
Highlighting the good, the bad, and the ugly to build a foundation of trust
Communication and transparency are non-negotiables when building a board.
Each conversation needs to be approached with candor, from the beginning. For someone to sign up for a board seat, they need to know the good, the bad, and the ugly in the context of what’s needed and where they can help. From my perspective, that level of transparency takes out a lot of the guesswork and goes a long way in building trust early on.
From there, prospective board members will do their own due diligence, diving into culture, assessing guiding principles, and understanding the business. Paired up with senior leaders they take a really good look under the hood. There should be nothing to hide.
Driving success through true collaboration
A good board guides consistent performance for the company; that’s the most obvious metric. But it’s important to have the board assess their own success annually. Boards need to set measurable objectives and evaluate the performance of each committee, the engagement of each board member, and the effectiveness of the overall board.
In the end, one of my biggest takeaways is that successfully leading a company is a team sport. Together, we build the board dynamic and cadence and define how we’ll all add value to the journey of building a great and sustaining company.
Tom Keiser joined Hootsuite as CEO in July of 2020, having spent four years at Zendesk as COO. Prior to finding his niche in SaaS, Tom held top roles in both operations and IT at major retail, finance and tech companies including The Gap Inc., L Brands, Ernst & Young, and Capgemini.