Boards Won't Improve Without Changing

Boards shouldn’t expect positive changes without making moves to trigger it. They also shouldn’t wait to make changes, assuming time is on their side. Technology moves too fast to allow it. 

Leadership Shouldn't Pass the Buck

Leadership should articulate the need for change well, and sell it effectively to the organization. If the change fails at any level, leadership should assume blame. Meanwhile, embrace change.

Stay Active and Embrace Technology in 2023

Before joining a board, seek out an organization that meshes with your passions and skills. Realize that while cybersecurity and technology are important, sound tech will allow data control and minimize security risks.

Atlas Leadership Webinar Series: Technology as Your Board’s Advantage

Webinar Recap: IBM Fellow Nick Donofrio joins OnBoard’s CEO and Co-Founder Paroon Chadha for a fireside chat about the importance of embracing change and tapping into technology to improve board effectiveness.

Design Lines

The role of a board director isn’t easy. Recent challenges – including the COVID-19 pandemic, rising inflation, and economic uncertainty – have made things even tougher.

If anyone understands how to face these challenges head-on, it’s Nick Donofrio. For over 40 years, Nick led IBM by embracing change and innovation to reinvent multiple business divisions. Throughout his career, Nick has served on multiple corporate, nonprofit, and startup boards. Today, Nick serves as an NACD executive director and advisor for several technology-focused boards. He also holds the prestigious title of IBM fellow.

Nick’s desire and willingness to help others never wanes. “I get 500 emails a day and I answer every one of them,” said Nick. “If you were moved enough to send me an email, you deserve an answer. It’s my servant attitude. In the time I have left, I want to serve as many people as I can and make as big a difference as I can.”

His recently published memoir, “If Nothing Changes, Nothing Changes,” is sure to guide and inspire even more current and future leaders – both in and out of the boardroom.

Recently, Paroon Chadha, OnBoard’s CEO and Co-Founder, sat down with Nick to discuss how the most effective leaders must embrace change and technology to drive effectiveness. Their discussion spanned such topics including:

  • Leading through change and innovation with a market-centric focus
  • Weathering shifts in technology and leveraging them for better outcomes
  • The leadership qualities necessary for encouraging, engaging, and mentoring the directors of the future

Read on to explore some of the takeaways from this engaging session.

If Nothing Changes, Nothing Changes

The title of Nick’s new memoir is “If Nothing Changes, Nothing Changes.” But why did he choose this title?

It was a lesson from his father, who immigrated to America in 1904, and became a hard-working hatmaker in the Italian ghetto of Beacon, New York.

“Something I greatly admired about my father was his spirit of creativity, that innovative mindset that enabled him to find a solution to any problem he faced,” explained Nick.

Nick’s father demanded excellence. When Nick wasn’t in school, he could be found delivering newspapers or taking care of the house. “One day, I had enough,” recounted Nick. “I said that evening, ‘Dad, why do you push me beyond what seems to be a reasonable effort?’ I’ll never forget; he looks me right in the eye and says, ‘If all you do is what you’ve been doing, and you’re not happy with what you’ve been getting, then why do you keep doing it? Because that’s all you’re going to get. Son, if nothing changes, nothing changes. Change! Change yourself. Change your world. Change what you’re doing.”

This advice has stayed with Nick throughout his entire career. This mindset drove his success at IBM – and it’s something that still guides him today.

Change is inevitable. Rather than resisting it, boards must embrace it. Otherwise, they’ll continue to get the same outcomes they always have.

“We, as leaders, have to become masters of change,” said Nick. “You have to embrace change. You have to harness it. You have to become accountable for it and to it.”

Time is Never Your Ally

In the world of business, change happens quickly – especially when it comes to technology. “Back when I started in this industry in 1964, the technology of the day was nothing you even know about,” said Nick. “Technology moves all the time and constantly smacks you in the face.”

What’s more, it seems that lately, there’s a new crisis every few weeks threatening to negatively impact business.

Nick said leaders must come to terms with the fact that time simply isn’t on their side. “Rarely do we say, ‘I had too much time to get this done.’ You don’t control the rate technology flows. You have to get realistic about time not really being your ally, but something we all have the same amount of to manage.”

Nick’s advice to board leaders is to manage your time wisely. “You might not have another chance to walk this path,” he said.

In addition, he advises leaders not to put things off. Rather, they should act now – and move as quickly as possible. According to Nick, “The general attitude for all of us to be successful leaders is, time is yours to take advantage of now. Do it now. Make your move now. Make that change matter now.”

Leadership Must Take Accountability for Change

There are a lot of changes happening in the world today. And the reality is, many people are resistant to change. Paroon asked Nick how leaders can decide the right strategy for each change cycle – and then getting buy-in.

As Nick explained, “You as a leader have to be able to articulate why the need for change, why the need for change now. Always start with the problem. If you can’t start with the problem, you’ll have a hell of a time getting anyone to move.”

Then, leaders must take ownership of change. After all, they understand the rate and pace that the organization can (or can’t) respond to change.

“The mistakes that were made were not mistakes the organization made. It’s not their fault. It’s leadership’s fault. It’s a failure of leadership.”

Today’s leaders must have courage and conviction. “I’m not going to change to be one of those get along, go along people,” explained Nick. “Who’s going to ask the tough questions if it’s not going to be you?”

Great Board Members Are Active and Engaged

Paroon challenged Nick to describe what makes a good board member.

Nick advises professionals looking to join a board to first consider what they want to do and what their skills are. In addition, they must understand the basics of being a director or trustee.

According to Nick, engagement and continuous learning are key. “In the end, you have to realize you’re going to be the person held accountable,” said Nick. “Be active. Be engaged. If you don’t know something, learn something.”

In addition, board directors can’t be afraid to speak up and rock the boat. “The idea of going along to get along is a bad idea,” said Nick. “You see it fail time and time again.”

Technology Must Be a Top Board Priority in 2023

Nick is passionate about the crucial role of technology in driving board effectiveness – now and in the future. But from a technology perspective, where should boards focus their efforts in 2023?

According to Nick, it starts with “security of all kinds and technology of all kinds.” While cybersecurity usually takes the top position for everyone, Nick argues that it really should be technology.

“The risks associated with other technologies are going to overwhelm cybersecurity risks,” said Nick. “You better have control of all the data you’re using. If not, it’s only a matter of time before it takes you out.”

Interested in learning more about how to improve your board’s effectiveness in 2023 and beyond? Check out our collection of on-demand Atlas Leadership series webinars. 

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