Interview with Paul Beal, Managing Director
What does the “Theatre of the Board” mean to you?
A Board meeting is very different to any other meeting a senior leader attends. It is highly formal and observed by a variety of stakeholders; local community, staff, trade unions. As an Executive Director there is an expectation that your engagement extends beyond your profession and that you – as a strategic advisor – give your view on most, if not all issues. This can be daunting and sometimes even intimidating.
Having impact in a Board meeting requires an element of performance and consideration to how you present yourself, the language you use and the questions you ask. To be authentic and effective, your performance needs to come from an understanding of your strengths and how to utilise them in your role on the Board.
What was the thinking behind the Theatre of the Board programme?
Looking at our own past performance at Board meetings, we thought about what would have enabled us to be more confident and have a greater impact in that setting. We looked to create a programme that would encourage an Executive Director to deal with challenges and to be authentic in a high-pressure setting whilst in a public forum.
- Strengths-based – Research shows that you perform at your best when you are aware of and are using your strengths. The programme uses strengths-based approaches to development and focuses on what you’re good at and what you find motivating.
- Practical – The role of an Executive Director is mentally challenging and involves dealing with conflict whilst maintaining a constructive outlook. The opportunity to develop these skills is invaluable. The programme creates a psychologically safe space for participants to think about how they show up in a Board environment, how they present themselves and how they perform – and then put it into practice.
- Tailored – Participants explore the challenges they may face and the triggers that may catch them off-balance. The support of a professional coach to help explore these further and how to be more impactful and calibrate performance brings a depth of personal learning.
Why do you think the programme has been successful to date?
We create an environment where participants feel safe to be authentic. Our programme provides the opportunity to leave the day-to-day pressures of business at the door and to be present and take the time to focus on yourself. That is so rare for a Senior Leader, and it is invaluable in my experience.
This is a rounded programme, offering something for all learning styles and preferences. The programme is varied. We use a range of interventions including the Strengthscope psychometric test to take an appreciative look at how you deliver your role. We look at the theory behind a functioning Executive Director and how you move beyond your profession to be impactful in a Board environment. The programme runs over several months, allowing participants to reflect and go on that journey of personal development.
Our Board simulation activity is an opportunity to try out some of the learning individually and as a team, participants are courageous and experiment in that setting. We provide feedback on what went well and consider areas for development that can be taken to your individual coaching sessions to explore and address.
Several alumni of the programme have advanced their careers significantly. They have grown in confidence and are clear on their impact as a Board member. They gained insight into themselves and how they manage conflict and triggers in that environment. They developed strategies to build productive relationships to support them inside and outside of the Boardroom.
What did you enjoy most about delivering this programme?
I knew from the outset how much a programme like this would benefit participants and I was excited to follow the participants’ journey. I found the enthusiasm to be contagious, seeing how open and curious they were and how engaged they became in their development. They were courageous and shared vulnerabilities which they gained them the support of their peers. It was rewarding to see participants own their authenticity and believe in themselves.
What is different about the 2023 revision of programme?
We last delivered the programme before the pandemic. Since then, the context in which Boards operate has changed. Integrated Care Systems require organisations to work together. With the focus on improving the health and wellbeing of individuals, these systems share a common sense of purpose to deliver on priorities while using resources more effectively.
For Executive Directors, Boards now reflect a broader range of stakeholders. Effective collaboration is critical to support the integration of services between partner organisations. Developing your leadership style and being confident as part of a more diverse Board is even more important not just to your own organisation, but to the wider system.
We are mindful of the demands on senior leader’s time. The programme is a now 50/50 combination of online sessions and face-to-face workshops over separate 3 days.
We look forward to running this programme with our Insightful Exchange team of professionals working with colleagues in Health and Social care.