Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ultimate Succession

Today is Election Day 2008. It's a day of ultimate succession planning — in which we as a nation designate the new Chief Executive who will lead the enterprise that we call the United States. 

What's going to happen today brings to mind one of the most trenchant remarks ever made about the voting role of boards in executive succession.

Brace yourself if you are a CEO. I'm not sure that you would be happy to have a group of directors who walk into every board meeting hewing to this voter's mandate.

And what mandate might that be? Simply this: According to one of the grandmasters of governance, the first decision that the board should address upon taking their seats is to answer this question — "Is this the day that we fire the CEO?"

I learned that from Robert Mueller (pronounced Miller), pictured above. Bob was a dear colleague. He was one of the most knowledgeable individuals about the workings of corporate and advisory boards, having written 18 books on leadership, and was himself an expert practitioner of directorship. Monsanto was but one of his public company boards. I'll have to devote one or more future blog posts about Bob because there is just so much to be said about him.

Bob served on a board (not Monsanto) whose members asked themselves this question before the start of every board meeting. If the answer was "no," Bob said the meeting then proceeded on course. But the focus on the leader's qualifications to maintain office was regularly before the "electorate" — and not subject to the vastness of four-year intervals of rendering judgment on performance and capabilities.

We won't be firing the current Chief Exec today. But I wonder how many voters are going to the polling stations and subliminally answering "yes" to the Mueller mandate: "Is this the day that we fire the CEO?"