Ken Chenault's approach to board management + Bryan Smith's approach to persuasion = the board two-step.

Bryan Smith lays out five levels of persuasion

  1. Tell – The traffic policeman on the corner tells you to detour right.  Not a lot of discussion.  He or she is in charge, you are directed.
  2. Sell – I know I'm right and am going to persuade you to buy my idea.
  3. Test – I've got an idea that I'd like to run by you.  I'm interested in what you think.  This encourages you.
  4. Consult – I've got an idea that I'd like you to help me improve.  I'm open to your input and this makes you feel valued
  5. Co-Create – Let's solve this problem together, starting with a blank page as partners.

Situational Leadership

These are also five levels of situational leadership.  Different leaders deploy different leadership styles in different situations.  These range from command and control (tell) to partnership (co-create).  The biggest difference is between leaders providing direction (tell) and input (consult or test) with the associated difference in decision rights.

Ken Chenault's two-step approach

Ken Chenault likes to give his board of directors two looks at any major idea.  This gives them time to reflect on the idea, talk amongst themselves and come back to him one-on-one before making a decision.

The Board Two-Step

Putting all this together leads to the board two step.  Let's begin by taking two approaches off the table.  Generally not helpful for a CEO to try to TELL his or her board what to do.  (If you don't understand that, give me a call and we'll talk.)  It's also not a good idea to CO-CREATE with the board.  That leads to  Gustavus Smith situation.  (Follow this link to find out what happens to leaders who tell their bosses they don't have a plan.)

So, we're left with consult – test – sell.  Here are the steps:

  • Before step one, prepare the board by giving them the appropriate amount of information in advance.  Think Goldilocks: not too little and not too much.
  • Step one: CONSULT or TEST with the board.  Be clear you are seeking their input, not decision.
  • Then, go away.  Give the board space to mull things over and have one-on-one conversations with you.
  • Step two: SELL.  Lead the board through a final conversation and seek their decision.

Works with senior leadership too

Although we developed this approach for boards, it works with all sorts of groups.  It is a good way to separate out input from direction.  Oh-by-the-way, it's almost always a good idea to clarify if you are seeking or providing input (after which the person receiving the input gets to make a decision) or direction (a decision to be implemented by others)