Friday, January 1, 2010

Broader Shoulders for 2010

Happy New Year! Are you feeling a sense of relief? Of how better it might be now that we're seeing 2009 in the rearview mirror?

If the economy can rebound, perhaps 2010 won't be the 'Byrom-esque' year for board members that 2009 was (see my blog post of Dec. 31). But there has been so much damage done to investors from boards' faulty risk oversight that one should not expect this coming year to be a cakewalk for directors. Institutional investors will press forward with their incursions into the boardroom — say on pay and proxy access petitions — and politicians will certainly support such drives with enabling legislation. Global competition will not lighten up. Nor will the need lessen to develop and recruit the best talent available, from the corner office on down.

So, what will it take to be a director in 2010?

I am reminded of something my close colleague Jeffrey Sonnenfeld once shared with an audience of CEOs and directors. Jeff runs the Yale CEO Leadership Summit, a distinctive convocation of top leaders from business, government, not-for-profit, and academia. (If you have the good fortune to be invited to this semiannual gathering, do attend.) At one summit, when the troubles being wrestled with seemed too imposing, even to all the hard-charging execs in the room, Jeff reminded us of an old Jewish saying:

"I ask not for a lighter burden; I ask for broader shoulders."

Directors' burdens are not going to get any lighter in 2010, so don't pray for that. It will still take courage to be on a board and to accept a board invitation. Pray that you have the broader shoulders to bear this vital duty.