Owning Up

by Ram Charan

A Harvard Ph.D. with a focus on Boards of directors + decades of experience learning, practicing and teaching others + engaging prose + keen insights and practical tools = Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs To Ask..

Ram Charan wants us to know that board governance means board leadership. Boards bring a vast wealth of insight, wisdom, and business savvy; they must exercise it.

Reading Ram Charan is like having the world-class business adviser and teacher over for a cup of coffee. You get the insights (minus the give-and-take of course) delivered in a clear and practical manner. Charan is not going to go easy. He will tell you: "Boards need to own up to their accountability for the performance of the corporation." (page ix) His hope is "that you and your colleagues will use the content of this book to help your board truly own up to the new role society is demanding of you." (page xi)

My board experience is with churches and an educational organization. Charan's main focus is corporate boards, but so much of what he says has direct application across a variety of board settings. Consequently, he equipped me to do a better job in my current roles, but he also gave me a greater appreciation and readiness to engage as a board member in other settings.

The questions:
1. Is our board composition fright for the challenge?
2. Are we addressing the risks that could send our company over the cliff?
3. Are we prepared to do our job well when a crisis erupts?
4. Are we well prepared to name our next CEO?
5. Does our board really own the company's strategy?
6. How can we get the information we need to govern well?
7. How can our board get CEO compensation right?
8. Why do we need a lead director anyway?
9. Is our governance committee best of breed?
10. How do we get the most value out of our limited time?
11. How can executive sessions help the board own up?
12. How can our board self-evaluation our functioning and our output?
13. How do we stop from micromanaging?
14. How prepared are we to work with activist shareholders and their proxies?

Ram Charan's Owning Up was like every book of his I have read; an educational journey I am glad I undertook. His book provided me with a broader understanding of the nature of boards and how they thrive. He also put some helpful tools (Directors Skills Matrix, 17; Dashboard, 76; Tutorial sessions, 134-5; Board self-evaluation questions, 156-7) in my leadership toolbox.