This week's Book Review: The Fish Rots from the Head - Bob Garratt

This week’s book was gifted to my husband 19 years ago and I’m sure neither of us has read it. However, its title is imprinted on the inside my forehead as the Chinese proverb (title of the book) was mentioned at a Board and leadership education session I attended 20 years ago.

I’ve finally read ‘The Fish Rots from the Head’ and whilst I don’t have any immediate intentions of joining another board, it’s a fascinating read. I’m almost inclined to download the current (third) edition given the tumultuous time boards and directors have experienced over the past 20 years.

It’s interesting to note that the Australian Institute of Company Directors has the third edition of this book for sale on its website – must be a recommended read for aspiring directors.

It’s an easy read and I was pleasantly surprised that the focus was less on the mechanics of identifying issues with the financial plan, however, more on how to skill Directors to know the importance of corporate climate, culture, accountabilities, strategic thinking styles and leadership.

Whilst Corporate Governance isn’t sexy … it sure is significant if you’re a Director.  Addressed under the chapter of Accountability, governance gets some airplay, however, I would think the third edition of this book would catch up with the ever changing heightened importance of being a responsible director.

As a Director, no matter which organisation or even country you reside, you’re faced with four dilemmas:

·        Be entrepreneurial yet prudent

·        Knowledgeable of day to day actions yet stand back from the management

·        Sensitive to local issues yet have a global view

·        Focused on commercial needs yet responsible for people and partnerships.

Bob’s mission for Boards, is that they are a Learning Board: keeping ahead or at least working at the pace of change encountered by the organisation, stakeholders and society; educating directors on a continual basis. This can be done as a group of Directors, using models and tools shared in the book with the focus on short and long term activity.

During the week I used a SWOT analysis with a client on their Planning Day which is the first tool recommended by Bob for the strategic thinking process. It’s use created a day of conversation which we didn’t finish, highlighting the need to get groups and teams together to think and talk and share their intelligence.

These are the simple standout messages which made the book interesting and informative:

·        Direction–givers need a brain-on, rather than a hands-on attitude.

·        A director needs to use ‘intelligent naivety’ as a key tool of the job. (Like a leader should always be asking questions to understand people.)

·        The Vision should be unattainable in the short term to medium term but sufficiently tantalising for everyone to be exciting about it and see it as a real possibility, even in the worst times.

·        Board members must act out the values they agreed to and check that the company is doing the same.

·        Directors need to scan the environment, religiously reading daily and questioning “what does this mean for us?”

·        Using scenarios to test strategies, identify thoughts and possibilities enabling the killing of a strategy if it strays from the purpose.

·        Avoid creating committees of the board, rather, form working groups which have a ‘use-by’ date.

·        Boards are typically groups of powerful individuals and need to work effectively as a group in the short time which they have together.

·        Directors must think: to the past, in the current and to the future. Right, true and new! Sadly, many Directors look to their past experience and stop there.

When I reflect on the books I’ve read so far, Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday is one which I believe ‘would be Directors’ or current Directors should read to realise the how debilitating their ego can be to their organisation.

Bob offers this activity to help with the Directors development; it’s similar to one which I use however this is brilliant – I can see how dynamic it would be if everyone was honest with their feedback.

ACTIVITY FOR DIRECTORS (and Leadership Teams)

Stop, Start, and Continue. Write the names of each Board member onto individual pieces of Butcher’s paper (large white paper) and these three headings: Stop, Start and Continue. Affix the pieces of paper to a wall in a room and encourage Directors whilst they have a coffee to walk around and write in each category against each board member, feedback and ideas which would help their fellow directors be more effective on the board.

The critical question is, what training and activities have you done whilst in your role as Director? Likewise, as a Leader, what training/learning have you completed to be an effective and efficient Leader? Get in contact with me as I can definitely help you and your leadership team develop.

The third edition.

I’m endeavouring to read 52 Business/Professional/Personal Development books in 52 weeks. Yep, that’s one a week. As I read each book, I’ll share my thoughts, learning and recommendations. If there is a book that you’ve been meaning to read, let me know and I’ll read it for us!