May 25 2023

Book Short: Boards That Lead

Boards That Lead, by Ram Charan, Dennis Carey, and Michael Useem, was recommended to me by a CEO Coach in the Bolster network, Tim Porthouse, who said he’s been referring it to his clients alongside Startup Boards. I don’t exactly belong in the company of Ram Charan (Brad and Mahendra probably do!), so I was excited to read it. While it’s definitely the “big company” version to Startup Boards, there are some good lessons for startup CEOs and founder to take away from it.

The best part about the book as it relates to ALL boards is the framework of Partner, Take Charge, Stay out of the Way, and Monitor. You can probably lump all potential board activities into these four buckets. If you look at it that way…these are pretty logical:

  • Monitor – what you’d expect any board to do
  • Stay out of the Way – basic execution/operations
  • Partner – strategy, goals, risk, budget, leadership talent development
  • Take Charge – CEO hiring/firing, Exec compensation, Ethics, and Board Governance itself.

There was an interesting nugget in the book as well called the Central Idea that I hadn’t seen articulated quite this way before. It’s basically a statement of what the business is and how it’s going to win. It’s about a page long, 8-10 bullet points, and it includes things like mission, strategy, key goals, and key operating pillars that underlie the goals. It basically wraps up all of Lencioni’s key questions in one page with a little more meat on the bones. I like it and may adopt it. The authors put the creation of the Central Idea into the Take Charge bucket, but I’d put it squarely in the Partner bucket.

Other than that, the book is what you’d expect and does have a lot of overlap with the world of startups. Its criteria for director selection are very similar to what we use at Bolster, as is its director evaluation framework. The book has a ton of handy checklists as well, some of which are more applicable than others to startups, for example Dealing with Nonperforming Directors and Spotting a Failing CEO.

All in, a good read if you’re a student of Boards.