Keeping Up: The Four Kinds of Energy Every Board Needs

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Greg Conderacci is a personal energy expert. He teaches marketing at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health and consults on change management and corporate identity. Conderacci will speak at NACD’s 2017 Global Board Leaders’ Summit in October on the power of energy and how to harness it within your business.

Greg Conderacci

Are boards keeping up with today’s fast-paced and complex business environment?

That’s the central question of the Report of the NACD Blue Ribbon Commission on Building the Strategic-Asset Board. The commission declared, “The velocity of the changes directors are facing shows no signs of slowing down.”

The message is clear: you cannot govern a twenty-first-century company with a twentieth-century board.

What are the traits of a high-performing, modern board? The commission says it without saying it directly. It’s energy. Underlying the challenge of keeping up are a few key facts:

  • You can’t get more time; there are only 24 hours in a day; and
  • You can get much more energy.

There’s a reason that the popularity of Starbucks, Red Bull, and a host of other energy drinks and potions is booming. Unfortunately, if your board is low on energy, serving 5-Hour Energy drinks at its meetings won’t solve the problem.

Changing the expectations for board membership will. In the past, board members were typically asked if they had the experience, insight, wisdom, expertise—and the time—to serve. While time is still important, we need to add energy to the list. Indeed, energy is one of the most important, often-ignored attributes for board members. Director skills and insights must be applied to benefit an organization. And that takes energy.

Specifically, board-level engagement demands four separate kinds of energy: physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. If the board is not capable of overseeing the ever-changing priorities of the company, the board might need an energy refresh. Here’s a fast, four-part diagnostic tool to find out if your board could stand a little pick-me-up.

  1. Physical Energy. This is the least important type of energy associated with directorship, and the one most associated with age. Can the members show up to all planned meetings and events? If yes, this basic requirement has been met.
  2. Intellectual Energy. This is the type of value that directors are recruited to contribute. Are directors’ intellectual contributions creating long-term value for shareholders and the enterprise? Do directors willingly take on additional challenges? Will they tackle messy, complicated problems that demand creativity and resourcefulness? Are they “ahead of the curve” or just reactive? Do they stay engaged between meetings and prepare adequately before meetings?
  3. Emotional Energy. This critical energy is often the undervalued elephant in the room. Is the boardroom atmosphere charged with good energy? Do members dread going to meetings? Do they approach difficult issues with zest, or is the board table covered with automatic negative thoughts? After inevitable conflicts are resolved, do the seeds of an ongoing feud remain? Or do they leave as an energized team?
  4. Spiritual Energy. Are the members true to the vision, mission, and values of the organization? Are they willing to retool them, if necessary? Do they have a passion for the company’s products and services and compassion for the people who deliver them? Do they have the courage to adapt to market shocks, to admit failure, and to deal with leadership problems (including those on the board)?

For a board to be a strategic asset in the twenty-first century, directors have to do much more than put in their time. They have to help contribute the energy to “supercharge” the organization. And that’s critically important—no matter their age.


Greg Conderacci’s book, Getting UP! Supercharging Your Energy is available from Amazon in print, e-book and audio-book versions. All ideas expressed in this post belong to the author. For more information on Conderacci, please visit his website.

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