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Harnessing the power of coaching to deliver greater outcomes as board directors

Grant Thornton

The benefits of expanding your non-executive director bandwidth

One of the challenges non-executive directors face is finding that sweet spot where textbook good practice meets experience, and then has to be pragmatically applied within their organisation. The problem lies in the way we’ve been conditioned to operate: linear, rational, predictable processes dominate board discussions, at the expense of some of the more intangible aspects of our perception and mindset. In fact, most people end up numbing themselves to any other information available to them. Feeling a particular emotion about an opportunity or risky practice can often be seen as irrelevant, and there aren’t many board meetings where sharing physiological sensations would be welcomed.


What if those areas offer some of the most valuable data points, and the organisation isn’t benefitting from them?

We’ve all had those moments in which we experience what we might call more transpersonal dimensions of consciousness. A truly inspiring concert, a workout, meditation time, or a hobby in which life inexplicably became richer, and an experience of the present moment overtook all concept of the passage of time. And yet, those moments where we are most fully alive tend to be relegated to activities outside any professional role we might have. It isn’t just about joy, it’s about fully feeling our body and the world – what would happen if we expanded that into the all-important discussions non-executive directors play into?

Think for a moment about the fact that for all intents and purposes we’ve lost the ability to feel our emotions. When we’re asked, “What do you feel about that?” people only ever answer with what they think. A lot of organisational cultures foster human absence – providing your brain (specifically, your rational mind) is present, it isn’t seen as a problem if it’s difficult to share emotions. Like fear, for example, often cited as a negative emotion that blocks good thinking. But when we feel safe enough to notice the fear and go towards it, perhaps discovering more about where the fear comes from and what it’s telling us, there is often a huge opening to new sensations. It’s like those parts of our consciousness that previously had been disconnected suddenly come back online. Fear doesn’t actually block us, it’s we who block fear because we don’t feel safe enough.

And the truth is that the state of the world is one in which a level of anxiety should be natural – we know it, and yet we paper over the cracks with other activities. What’s your metaphorical drug of choice? If we can create board meetings in which we feel fully able to acknowledge that anxiety and simply feel it together, new ideas will be unleashed from the energy that’s generated. It isn’t a thought-led brainstorming session, as helpful as those processes can feel, it’s a cutting-edge of innovation that comes about when we adventure into the not-yet-known. Our addiction to purely rational thinking actually prevents the higher levels we need to foster greater innovation. The financial results boards see are only a surface-level number that reveals a depth of…something more.


There are a number of ways to encourage this expanded input from NEDs.

For example, non-executive directors and other board members may work with coaches to bring awareness back to the body and emotions. Coaches can support board directors in becoming fully grounded and relentlessly present. It’s uncomfortable at first, particularly when it feels like everything is designed to slow thinking down in a world that values busyness over most other things, but that slowing down actually provides much greater clarity and acceleration. A brave step is called for, to become unconditional towards what is, and to stop trying to fix everything. That takes courage and maturity, when everything inside us and all the expectations on us are to want to solve, solve, solve. Staying with a well-led coaching experience will enable something to happen beyond anything boards can manage simply by non-executive directors offering good thinking. That will, naturally, take boards absolutely to the edge of the unknown, and we already know subconsciously that this is a good idea. How many of the greatest artists and scientists at their greatest moments of breakthrough and creativity were doing what was expected? Perhaps it’s time to value what non-executive directors can offer in addition to more traditional analysis.



This blog is written by Karen Brice, Associate Director at Grant Thornton UK. Grant Thornton has partnered with NEDonBoard to provide educational and insightful content to our community of influential board members.



Related post: How can NEDs use coaching to improve an organisation

Related post: Are you a mentor or a non-executive director? 


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