The board meeting is over. The directors have gone back to their busy VC world. And you, as the entrepreneur, are heading to an email inbox that now, is even more overloaded than it was four hours ago.
As you scan through Slack, sift through Gmail or gaze at your 15 unanswered text messages, you might be left with some unsettling thoughts. Did I get what I wanted out of that board meeting? If so, why do I still feel bad
It’s a valid question for entrepreneurs to consider… Just how should I feel after a board meeting?
The above scenario happened to me so many times I lost count. As an entrepreneur, I’d walk out of most board meetings with no clue how the meeting went. If, as the CEO, I did my job in the board meeting, why then did I feel so overwhelmed, frustrated and in desperate need of a drink?
After years of experience as the co-founder and managing director of Next Coast Ventures and as the CEO of ServiceSource (SREV), I have finally realized this whirlpool of feelings is typical. If you are an entrepreneur and you walk out of your board meeting feeling slightly unsatisfied, you are probably doing it right.
Even the most accomplished business leaders walk out of board meetings with doubts—part of the purpose of a successful board meeting is to challenge and question your ideas and to take you out of your comfort zone. Like a good workout with a personal trainer that pushes you to the limit, you should leave a board meeting feeling a mixture of exhaustion and frustration with a healthy dose of skepticism. When taken in stride, entrepreneurs can turn the following potentially toxic emotions into catalysts for next steps:
1. Mental Exhaustion
Board meetings are important and entrepreneurs need to remain fully present and focused in order to defend their recent decisions and fight for their future ideas while driving the agenda of the meeting forward—and ultimately, the business. A board meeting should be the culmination of weeks of preparation and practice in order to hone your narrative. This extreme channeling of intellectual energy can be draining, so take it as a good sign if you feel tired after you leave. This is a sign that you have put in the necessary time and effort—and you lead a constructive meeting.
2. More Than Slightly Frustrated
A good board meeting will challenge and frustrate you. At every turn, your opinions will be debated and questioned under a microscope and you may feel like you are placed in the spotlight to defend an unpopular idea. Keep focused and use the opportunity to truly consider other points of view. Remember that the board isn’t trying to give you a hard time for the fun of it or without reason, they simply are doing due diligence in ensuring that all factors are being considered. Rather than getting defensive or dismissive, which can be counterproductive, look at the situation with a positive perspective and take this time to solicit honest feedback from a group of individuals clearly vested in your success.
3. A Bout of Skepticism
Leading a board meeting is all about presenting your ideas with confidence. However, when push back comes or you are unprepared for a line of questioning, it is normal to feel skeptical about the topic at hand. In my experience, there comes an exact moment when you realize that a decision made, hire completed or strategic direction communicated might be completely wrong. That is okay. Just take a deep breath and commit to no immediate action in the moment until you have had time to examine what happened and how you can move beyond.
And Yet, It Shouldn’t Be Torture.
While every entrepreneur should expect to encounter hurdles during a board meeting, there are several signs to watch out for that may indicate larger problems are afoot. Any of the above emotions, have the ability to become toxic or demotivating. An effective board should ask hardball questions and be straightforward about their concerns—while never directly criticizing or belittling an entrepreneur, even about disappointing results or decisions they disagree with.
The boardroom should be strictly professional and drama-free; it shouldn’t be fun, but it also shouldn’t be torture. If, as an entrepreneur, you consistently feel disrespected and dismissed by your board, it may reveal an underlying chemistry problem. If your negative emotions go beyond the standards detailed above, the makeup of your board may need to be evaluated.
At the end of the day, a board meeting should help provide perspective on recent performances and practical advice concerning future challenges. CEOs should leave a meeting exhausted, frustrated and skeptical—but also enthused, accomplished and eager to get to work.
Ultimately, you are all on the same team, and the role of the board is to support you. Just like that of a personal trainer who challenges you to perform more when you think you have nothing left in the tank, keep in mind that your board really does have your—and your company’s—best interests at heart.