Friday, June 5, 2009

Board Etiquette Rule No. 1

June 1 through June 7 is National Business Etiquette Week. Yes, that is news to me, too. But apparently this is the second annual celebration of this event, according to the experts at the Protocol School of Washington. You can brush up on some top business etiquette tips in the school's official announcement of its sponsorship of the second annual marking of this special week.

Which got me to thinking about board etiquette. There is a National Etiquette Week, which (I just learned, too) ran from May 11 through May 15, and now a National Business Etiquette Week ... so what about an officially designated National Board Etiquette Week? Maybe that's something Directors & Boards, as the grandaddy of governance journals, should put on the events map.

Which means I'd need to come up with an authoritative list of board etiquette tips. Well, I have Rule No. 1 already designated: Don't Die in a Board Meeting — That's Quite Rude.

You think this may be far-fetched? Not at all. A past author of mine was a witness to this violation of board etiquette. 

Harry Bruce, chairman and CEO of the Illinois Central Railroad from 1983 until his retirement in 1990, wrote a cover story for Directors & Boards in 1997 that was chock full of profound insights and advice on governance drawn from his career in business, which began in 1959 with U.S. Steel Corp. This incident, and accompanying advice, made it into his article:

"A board is supposed to be made up of senior advisers with substantial years of business experience behind them. Nevertheless, be careful of letting a board get too old. An elder statesman or two can be useful, but gray hair alone doesn't guarantee experience or the willingness to apply it. I once witnessed a director enter the boardroom in a wheelchair pushed by a male nurse. During the meeting the director died. This sort of thing can be awkward."

Awkward, indeed. And now, very unofficially, a violation of Board Etiquette Rule No. 1. Stay tuned for more additions to the list.