The Subversive Director

May 12, 2015 Chris Pearse

Reading Mike Willis’ (et al) excellent book recently, The Resilient Director, I came across the concept of the Subversive Director and suddenly realised that I had a name for what, on occasion, I instinctively try to be in the boardroom.

Now Subversion is quite a strong term with overtones of a deliberate intention to destabilise or unsettle.

Let’s see how the book puts it:

That is developing a blend of resistance and accommodation which will enable a director to shrug off the system of rules that the board has lived by and resist the views of others to the point of contradiction. This means the director who lives on the edge and has the confidence to be thought of as aberrant by others when needed. This places directors at the edge and at the point where differences amongst the board can be explored.

For me this is an invaluable attitude to bring into board meetings where the dynamics of personality, relationship and self-interest can easily create artifices that need at the least testing, if not exposing and dismantling.

And destabilising or unsettling the ‘Elephants in the Room’, the Groupthink, the Strategic Inertia, and all the other manifestations of boardroom dysfunction, not only mitigates their regressive effect, crucially, it opens the door for creative responses to emerge.

Now this process is not neat and tidy – it is ‘at the edge’ and can be an uncomfortable place to visit. Paradoxically, if your ‘aberrant’  behaviour is met with a strong emotional response, you may well be onto something. But pursued for the sake of truth, clarity and probity, you can only benefit the organisation as a whole.

So I would exhort all directors, particularly non-executives, to be subversive on occasion – try it out and see what happens. Providing it is in balance with your ability to listen, understand and support, you may be surprised…

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