Friday, March 20, 2009

An Arm Around the Shoulder

As the recession tightens the screws on their companies' operations and finances, board members have to be seeing the pressure on their management teams. Other than feeling their pain and trying to be as supportive as possible, directors are probably wondering what else they can do to help keep their CEO on a even keel. 

How about giving the CEO a hug?

It worked for Mel Bergstein (pictured), when he was on the receiving end of a thoughtful director's empathy.

Bergstein was CEO of Diamond Management & Technology Consultants Inc., a publicly traded technology consulting company, when the dot-com bust hit. The company survived, but endured a painful, almost near-death, experience mounting its comeback. He describes how he and his management team pulled the company back from the brink of extinction in the cover story he wrote for the First Quarter 2009 edition of Directors & Boards — a first-person account full of applicable wisdom and tactics for battling through the current downturn.

And what about that hug? Well, let Bergstein describe it. "For the board of directors," he writes, "it's important to understand the pressure and sense of helplessness that the CEO feels in these times. I was always encouraged by one director in particular who would put his arm around my shoulder and tell me I was doing the right things and the business would recover. I knew he hadn't a clue more than I did. But, hearing him say it to me helped me not feel so alone and burdened. He earned his director comp 10 times over because he was sensitive enough to understand. He'd been through it himself in the S&L crisis in the 1980s."

Bergstein, now chairman of the company, has several other pointers on how the board can help management work through these hard times. You can read his full account in the original article — leave a comment here or email me at and I'll email a copy to you — or click here for an excerpt that appears in the March issue of the Directors & Boards e-Briefing.  

What a choice piece of advice for all board members — that simple arm around the shoulder to buck up a stressed CEO might be just the heroic gesture needed to help the CEO pull himself and the company one step back from the brink.