This episode gave us a chance to muse together about the importance of having a clear understanding of the role of the individual Board member. Here are some more thoughts we had “offline” that we wanted to share.

Let’s think of an organization as a ship.  A ship has a defined structure, a clear purpose (moving people/things from A to B), and a crew with a variety of roles and responsibilities. It has to use the external elements (ocean, weather) but also in some cases struggle against them to complete its mission. It’s easy to imagine the various crew members as staff members and the Captain and their team as the fearless leaders turning the ship and charting the course. Where, though, does the Board fit in?

In an organization, the Board is supposed to set direction and monitor progress. The Board should have a keen awareness of the external environment to measure how close the organization is to fulfilling its purpose and mission and to consider outside challenges and threats. The Board should be both a resource for the CEO and a team of critical questioners to constructively challenge decisions and keep things on track.

The individual Board member, therefore, finds themselves in an important position on our ship above. While the crew and Captain are undertaking their important tasks and maintaining the ship, the Board member keeps their eyes focused forward. Consider the sextant, an old tool used by sailors to locate the ship as they cut through the middle of the ocean. The sextant is effective because from your ship you could observe the location of the stars, sun, moon and then compare those to the horizon. As you carefully record your measurements, you can make sure you are still on track and ask for adjustments from the Captain accordingly.

Now consider what we said about the Board above. A Board member needs to contribute to setting direction, monitoring progress, and understanding the external environment and how it may impact the organization.  Each time you review a report, join a meeting, and reflect on your role as a Board member, consider yourself as the person on the ship using the sextant to look out ahead and monitor whether or not you are still headed to your destination and, ultimately, fulfilling your purpose.

Image credit: Bernie Bernard TDI-Brooks International, Inc.

(For more details on the sextant, check out:

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