Liam McGee helped turn around the Hartford Financial Services Group (“The Hartford”) during his tenure as chairman and CEO from 2009 to 2014. Before he died from cancer last February, he penned a very honest piece of advice for CEOs and boards everywhere. Though Harvard Business Review gave it the title, “CEOs, Stop Trying to Manage the Board,” it might be more aptly headlined, “How to Build Trust with the Trustees.”
McGee banned PowerPoint decks from presentations to the board. His team gave trustees highlights they could read in advance and used the time with the board to have some genuine dialogue on important matters. “Real transparency, I learned, isn’t so much in the numbers, but in open conversation,” he wrote.
Yet the chairman had a more significant moment of truth when one of his senior leaders left and criticized McGee’s management style to the board during his exit. What would he do now?
McGee took the conventional route and hired a coach. Then he did something very unconventional. He gave his directors an overview of the coach’s assessment, including the parts critical of McGee. Then the board added some feedback of its own. Though it was difficult, McGee came to see that the board really wanted him to succeed. One of his trustees became an unofficial coach for him as well. And with trust growing, it gave McGee and the company the confidence to make tough decisions that positioned The Hartford for the future after the recession.
"A CEO,” McGee noted, “can work in partnership with directors without sacrificing his or her authority — and thereby accomplish far more than is possible with an arm’s-length relationship.”
Some great grist for the mill here. Read the full article here.