Oct 4, 2023 Nurole logo
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High-performance: the key characteristics of highly successful boards, with Clarissa Farr (Chair, Board Consultant & former High Mistress of St Paul’s)

🎙️ You can listen to the full podcast interview with Clarissa on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

What are the key ingredients of high-performing boards? As High Mistress of St Paul’s, Clarissa Farr worked with her board of governors over a period of marked success. Now a trustee, fellow and board consultant - at the Royal Ballet School, Winchester College and British Museum amongst others - Clarissa shares her key characteristics of high-performing boards. Tune in to her conversation with Nurole CEO Oliver Cummings to discover

  • what value did the board add for her as High Mistress at St Paul’s (1:43);
  • what were the key characteristics that made the board so effective (5:13);
  • how did she balance high-performance with wellbeing (7:58);
  • do enough boards think about how this balance is struck in their organisation (12:08);
  • where does she think the boards she's worked with could have done better (15:08);
  • does ageism work against older board members as well as younger ones (17:33);
  • how can smaller boards access fresh perspectives without compromising on experience (18:38);
  • what’s the best way to do reverse mentoring (20:11);
  • what tactics can Chairs use to get the most out of board members (23:03);
  • what are the different ways board members and consultants can add value(27:18);
  • where does the Chair-CEO relationship most commonly run into problems(31:50), and
  • The Lightning Round(36:38).

Oliver Cummings: Clarissa, I want to dive straight into your time running St. Paul's. You worked with a board of governors during a very successful period for the school. And I'm really interested to understand the role the board played for you, the value that it [00:02:00] added in particular.

Clarissa Farr: Thank you. Yes, so I should probably clarify by saying I inherited a very successful school, so I can't take all the credit for the fact that it remained successful during my time, but I'm pleased to say that on the whole, it did. Well, first thing I think is to say that I enjoyed a very positive and energetic relationship with the board.

And that started when I attended my final interview for the job. And I think it was the chemistry between me and the board that decided it for them, and for me. So, I do think getting on well with your board and having a very energetic, positive and upbeat relationship is absolutely critical.

And it's not something you can take for granted, but I certainly had that , at the beginning, and that made a lot of difference. I think a good board - and the St. Paul's Board very much was a good board - offers support, but it also offers critical challenge, and it's the way in which that critical challenge is [00:03:00] framed that really, really makes a difference.

I remember, for example, the wonderful Vice Chair of Governors, the late Jane Helen Alexander, who was a fabulous mentor to me in all kinds of ways. I would make some kind of suggestion in a board meeting from my report, and Helen would just say very quietly, “Why?” And from that “why”, we would unpack the challenge, and I would have to defend the reasons why I wanted to do whatever it was.

So I think a good board makes the CEO, the head in my case, feel supported but also challenged. And a good board will make you just think harder. And I think if you're running an already successful organization, the danger is always complacency. The danger is, don't let's change anything because what we're doing obviously works.

Let's keep it all the same. But everything has to move forward. You have to strategize, you have to challenge yourself, you have to take risks if you're going to be dynamic and, and [00:04:00] forge the future. So it's how you do that in a climate that's both supportive but rigorously critical that really matters.

So I valued that. I think also the diversity of talent and capability on the board was very important to me. So, , my background is education. I've been a teacher all my life. I've never been a lawyer. I've never worked in finance. I've never designed a building, but all of those things you have to get and understand if you're running a school.

So the professional expertise from other sectors was was very very valuable And just last thing to say maybe because as a board member now myself I think, , you do like to leave a board meeting feeling that you've made some kind of contribution, that actually your presence there was valued.

And one of the things I tried to do with my board at St.Paul's was to acknowledge, to hallow, to recognize, to, to appreciate [00:05:00] the interventions of people who were bringing a completely different professional skill set and range of experience to the table than I was able to give myself. So I think showing that appreciation is incredibly important.

Oliver Cummings: I love that and it's wonderful to hear about a board that has been high performing as often so the data shows that most boards are not high performing, so thank you for shining a light on a good example. If I'm sitting here listening to you now as a board member and thinking, gosh that sounds great, I wish my board were like that with that  high energy and right now my board is not high energy and the chemistry is not there.

How would you define what it was, or what were the characteristics that made it high energy? And for someone who's sitting on a board that is not high energy, what are the things that they might be thinking about looking at unlocking? 

Clarissa Farr: I think one of the things that made the St.Paul's Board high energy was that everyone believed in the mission. There was, [00:06:00] nobody around that table who didn't really care what happened to St. Paul's Girls School. Everybody believed in the mission, believed in education, believed in excellence, believed in empowering women, all the things that St.Paul's stands for. 

So I think it is important when you're hiring for a board to really test whether the people you're bringing onto the board are invested in the business or whatever the project is seriously invested in it that they're not just building their portfolio career with, well, it sounds good if I'm on the board of X, that's not enough, they have to have that kind of conviction because I think that's what, that's what drives people, , the very most mundane level to read the papers properly and get behind whatever the issues are that have to be discussed, but also builds that sense of commitment, that sense of purpose, energy and fulfillment that, that you want to have if you're a board member.

So belief in the mission I think is one thing. I think skilled chairing is another thing that can [00:07:00] generate and feed that, that energy. It's a bit like what I would have said about being a CEO, you've got to be this fountain of optimism the whole time. You've got to be throwing out enthusiasm.

You've got to be throwing out energy. You've got to be really interested in what people have to say. You've got to be brilliant at synthesizing that and bring it all together. You've got to keep pace on the meetings. You've got to not let things run into the sand. So the energy, the positive framing of the thinking and the whole climate in the room is set by the chair.

And I think a board that lacks energy, lacks pace, is probably a board that's not being well chaired and where there isn't that lovely combination of discipline and excitement in the room, which makes things, enables the board to get stuff done and makes the meetings interesting to be in.

Oliver Cummings: Really interesting. Now [00:08:00] you talked about creating that high energy, high performance environment. Another topic that you've written on is around. “How do you get high performance going hand in hand with well being?” I think one of the common assumptions people probably have leveled at Places like St. Paul's in the past as they've assumed that high performance is diametrically opposed to what interests of well being. What have you learnt about getting those two things to go hand in hand? 

Clarissa Farr: Yeah, certainly very frustrating to be constantly facing the rather stereotypical assumption that these very, very clever girls who achieved a lot must have duffel bags under their eyes and terrible self esteem and be up all night and be full of stress, etc, etc.

High performance obviously can take its toll, but I think the great thing is to work for the balance between [00:09:00] challenge and the capability to meet it. In management speak, it's looking for flow where what you expect of people is considerable, you set aspirations very high, but not so high that their ability to deliver is completely overwhelmed so that they can't function.

So one thing would be that, that balance between aspiration , and capability. And I think we all need to find that balance because if standards aren't set high enough, or expectations aren't set high enough, then we get bored. If they're set too high, we get overwhelmed. So finding that balance is important.

I was always very taken with the, the five ways to wellbeing - we used to use these at St Paul's. So to connect, to be active, to take notice, to keep learning, and to give, and we would try to employ all of those five in the way that we worked.[00:10:00] And I think being active, for example, was very important.

When I first went to St. Paul's, sixth formers didn't really take any interest in sport at all. You've got your rowers, you've got your lacrosse players, but a lot of the girls didn't do anything physical. Now, I'm a runner. I mean, that might be a rather grandiose term for what I do. But I like running, so I used to have a running group with the girls, and we would go off and say, we don't necessarily have to be that good at it.

Look at me, I'm doing it. So let's go together and do some running. So being physically active, I think is very important, but that helps keep people in balance. We put a lot of emphasis on the food and on, on, on healthy and enjoyable eating. When I was at school, lots and lots of focus on that.

Because again, I inherited a community where the lazy assumption was that everybody had disordered eating and this was another facet of dysfunction within the community. And I think being, keeping on learning is also [00:11:00] important for everybody.

So building the idea that a learning community is one where everyone is learning. It's not just the students learning, but teachers and adults are continually learning as well. So there's an energetic feeling of curiosity and exploration going on. So your question was about how you balance well being and high achievement.

I think it's a multifaceted question. But it's a matter of thinking much more fully and richly about the community of people and what they need. So that it's not all about the measurable outcomes at the end, but it's much more about the experience of living within that high performing culture.

But I think people are very excited about trying to do really well. And I don't think it's only. The prodigiously intellectually talented, which is openly what St. Paul's deals with, I think any community of people can and should. [00:12:00] Have set very high expectations and that can be exciting and can be energizing and it's important not to be afraid of that 

Oliver Cummings: I love that. As , it has a lot of echoes with one of my favorite frameworks - which Owen Eastwood, who's one of our former guests, put together for the New Zealand government: those five Pillars of a healthy society where they talk about mental, physical, spiritual, emotional and social wellbeing. And , physical, including a lot of the things you touched on their sleep, nutrition, exercise.

And it feels to me like more and more, there's more and more science supporting research, supporting the benefits of this approach. But how many boards are really spending enough time looking at their organizations through this framework? Is this something that the boards you're involved with will look at as a framework for their organization or performance?

Clarissa Farr: I think you're right. I mean, I think it might feel like a secondary concern because boards are often [00:13:00] very, or board meetings are often very preoccupied by data, by metrics, by what can be measured, and anxiety around making sure that those are the way they should be, which is obviously very important.

Listening to the heartbeat of the organization, so to speak, is not necessarily something that a board would ... would set aside too much time to do, , I think the more time board members spend within the organization in an informal way, whether you do half a day when you're within the organization … 

In my case, within schools, it would be dropping into lessons, going to have lunch with pupils, just tuning in to what's going on. I think that's really important to do. And certainly within schools and within the not not for profit sector more generally … in the culture sector where I work, that's become more and more an expectation of board members, that you would not just show up at meetings and then [00:14:00] disappear, but that you will actually go and spend time in the organization.

I think that's one way. I think also board members -  it really helps if they spend more time together as a board thinking about the organization. So, , at Winchester, where I've been involved for the last 10 years, we - and I appreciate it may be easy for a Winchester to do - but we would spend time together having dinner the night before, we would all stay in the school overnight and we would meet the next morning.

So we actually got to know each other much better than people who simply turn up to a board meeting and disappear, or worse now log in online and then disappear. I mean, you really don't know who you're dealing with. You don't know anything about those other people and the way they think. So talking together about the culture of the organization and paying attention at a social occasion like a dinner with them.

The thoughts of the top team, the CEO and the senior people getting together with them, listening to them. [00:15:00] That's how you work out what's really going on in terms of the, the temperature of the organization as a whole. 

Oliver Cummings: Yeah, it's been really interesting for me having to switch from an investor role, where I used to spend 90 percent of my time focused on the numbers and maybe 10 percent of my time focused on the rest of the stuff versus now as an operator CEO, I spend 90 percent of my time focused on the people and I know if I get the people right, the rest will follow and I spent very little time on the numbers.

If it feels like that's something that resonates with you, , are there other areas where you  looking back at your own boards and feel like they could have done better? , if you've talked about what went well, what would feature under the even better if column? 

Clarissa Farr: I think a general point that concerns me now about the limitations of the boards I've been on, and the boards generally, is there's a lot of focus on some kinds of diversity.

The kind of diversity which hasn't had much attention [00:16:00] is age. And in a way we're not allowed to talk about that of course. But it does strike me as a real problem that we're operating in a world now where the views of Generation Z and the young, and certainly for me in education, that's who you're dealing with.

But we're talking about a lot of employees now as well. We'd be in that bracket, digitally native Z generation. Their experience of the world, their values, their habits, their norms are so, so, so different from the experience of most of the people who populate boards today, who are a very different generation.

And maybe particularly chairs who are of a very different generation sometimes. So I think it's very difficult now for people in their forties, fifties, and sixties to get what it's like to live in the world of Generation Z. So, I do think that boards need to start [00:17:00] bringing on.

Much younger people who are more attuned to that mindset and more attuned to that way of thinking. St. Paul's have brought on a member of the board who's in their 20s, a former pupil so that they can listen to that perspective and be less likely to be making strategic decisions which just feel anathema to the people they're really concerned about, those young people. So I think board age diversity would be something we should pay more deliberate attention to. 

Oliver Cummings: Really interesting. That definitely resonates. I can think of my own experience where being the youngest board member and actually the one closest to the customer and it surprised me in a way that I was really able to add a lot of value in that area on things that were obvious to me, but where the rest of the board were blindsided.

I suppose it goes two ways though. There's also, I observe, actually there's quite a lot of ageism at the other end of the spectrum, where you'll get organizations who assume that once someone is, past the [00:18:00] age of, 70, they can't add any value, which I always find, an extraordinary way of looking at things, especially when, you've got the likes of Warren Buffett, who I certainly would love to have on my board.

And , he's well into his nineties. And it's about the value you bring than your age. Do you think it goes both ways or you mainly see it at one end of the spectrum? 

Clarissa Farr: Yes. I mean, I don't disagree that there will be people in their 70s and 80s or even 90s who would, who would add value to boards. I think diversity is the thing and having a range is important. 

Oliver Cummings: Yeah. I suppose one challenge that I've sometimes put to people is that biology is not politically correct. And , there is some research that shows or seems to suggest that our cognitive abilities decline as we get older.

I remember one of my math teachers once telling me age, whatever it was, 15, that I'd peaked and that it was downhill [00:19:00] from there on in which was a slightly brutal awakening, but I suppose you offset experience against the  cognitive abilities.

At the same time, especially with smaller boards, you have less room to carry people who don't have experience. If I think of, , small listed companies, SMEs, where they've only got maybe two or three board members, how does that play through? Is it that you've just got to  sacrifice that age diversity? 

Clarissa Farr: That's a really good point. I don't see why you have to be limited to listening only to people who are members of the board. You can have a very small board, and you can have an opportunity once a year when you co opt a few other people from the organization - or not from the organization - to give an opinion and to have an advisory function.

I'm not sure that you necessarily need a permanent advisory board as well as a main board. I mean you can come to the rock with all of these things, but to make sure that the [00:20:00] board hears other perspectives there are ways of doing that which  could mean that you don't have to mortgage a permanent place on the board.

Oliver Cummings: One of the ideas you've talked about that I really love is reverse mentoring. And perhaps this goes hand in hand with some of the earlier discussion around age diversity, but you described an example where a  young female colleague works with an older male colleague to help him see ways in which he might be biased. Can you give me an example of how you  brought that to life?

Clarissa Farr: Yes, I suppose having worked at St. Paul's, I was very used to being told what to do by younger people, so it was quite normal to me to be a reverse mentor on a daily basis. But we started something there called Dads for Daughters, which was a campaign springing out of the idea that men who have daughters are particularly invested in, in female success, and indeed There are [00:21:00] quite a number of studies which show that male CEOs tend to promote women if they have daughters.

That there is, if you like, a  bloodline link between female empowerment and male investment in that empowerment. So through that process, we brought fathers into school with their daughters to talk about workplace culture and to give us examples of some of the things that they were doing in their workplaces to improve.

Circumstances for women or to improve the ethos or the equality of that environment. And , one example was reverse mentoring and I vividly remember a father, describing with his daughter sitting next to him the experience of having been assigned a younger female colleague in his workplace who kind of shadowed him really who turned up to meetings with him who?

Might read certain reports or announcements that he was going to make and kind of filtered [00:22:00] him for the kinds of biases which are just getting into your utterances, getting into your behavior without you really realizing. , so looking for unconscious bias and calling it out. And he said to us, this was the best, the best professional development that he'd ever had because he'd started the process thinking, well,

I'm very chilled about this because I don't have any unconscious bias. I've got a daughter. She's always telling me off. I know how to behave around women. And he found that as a result of the reverse mentoring, he was called out on quite a lot of things. He hadn't been aware of just the underlying assumptions and the underlying thought processes and sometimes language that he would be using quite, quite unconsciously, which was impairing his ability to really promote equality in that workplace.

So, I think it's a great idea. And. People, , as, as you said to me earlier in the past, people have to be open to it. You have to be a volunteer, not a [00:23:00] conscript. 

Oliver Cummings: Yeah, that's definitely something that's always been top of mind when I think about  trying to foster a  more inclusive and diverse environment that  data shows that if you.

Put jam something down people's throats. They reject it. And unless they decide they want to do it, you've, you've got no hope, but I love that idea that you've got this  catalyst within your organization of people who are naturally  bought in. And I suppose if you can bring them together and help them to see that there's a , they have this shared passion in common, that you can use that as a catalyst to take.

Your, your later adopters are there. Things like that. That is, if for a chair, who's listening to this thinking, how do I make sure I get the most out of my board and particularly out of the female members of my board that you based on, , you've had a lot of experience of, of, driving  high performance that you would.

Be advocating. 

Clarissa Farr: Well, I think [00:24:00] I think another interesting area is in the actual chairing of meetings. I mean, the chairing of a board is much more than just if you might say chairing the meetings, but the chairing the meetings is a thing and some people are really good at it, and some people are much less good at it.

This is something that we used to do quite a bit at St Paul's that there's no reason why the chair must chair every meeting. So I'm quite in favor of giving other people the opportunity to chair individual meetings with notice, obviously. But if this is a board with a male chair, , it would be important, I think, and a tremendous missed opportunity not to give.

Other people, including the women, have the opportunity to chair meetings occasionally because the tone of chairing alters the quality of the conversation, the nature of the decision making massively and it's also a great experience for people. So sharing it out in terms of chairing the meetings, I think, is one way that that [00:25:00] can give greater experience and empower other members of the board.

And I do think , if you're trying to encourage a minority of women on that board to find their voice and so on, then, it would be a very good idea to make sure that the first person you ask is a woman when you open up discussion and so on. And obviously all good chairs save their own opinion for last rather than saying what they think at the beginning to close down the debate.

Oliver Cummings: I absolutely love that. Any more? These are gems coming out. I can see  chairs listening to this furiously scribbling down. Any other  hacks and tips? 

Clarissa Farr: I think it's important where people are sitting around the table and the chair might want to give thought to that.

So that those people who might be less likely to contribute to people within the Chair's eyeline so that they can make eye contact with that person and encourage them in. The very [00:26:00] loquacious person can be sitting next to you because you're not ever going to make eye contact with them, but  they're going to say stuff anyway, so that's fine.

That's an important thing to think about. And also probably picking people off beforehand. And maybe in your pre, you're thinking about the meeting in advance. There's a particular issue where you especially want to hear from someone and it's not going to be anywhere on the agenda that they're going to speak.

But where you might ring them the day before and say, , I really want to hear what you think about that, so I'm going to come to you first. And, you then tee people up to be ready for whatever that contribution might be. Might be. 

Oliver Cummings: I absolutely love that. And I was just thinking about the second point of getting other people to chair it.

What that also does for you as chair is gives you time to think. I know from my experience as an exec and chairing an executive team that I will actually often  ask one of the other members to do it. And it gives me more time to think and it gives me time to see things that I don't normally see.

So it's not just good. [00:27:00] I don't just see it as a development. Point for them. I see it also as an opportunity for me. And I guess the same is true for, for a chair in that regard. 

Clarissa Farr: No, absolutely. No, that's a really good point. I agree. Because you can often, you often really follow a discussion much better if you're not having to orchestrate it yourself, but you can listen to other people.

Oliver Cummings: Brilliant. Now you've got roles both as a board member and as a consultant. As a consultant to boards. I'm really interested to understand how you see the differences in those roles.

Clarissa Farr: So my work as a consultant is mostly as a coach or mentor. So I work with chief executives, mostly heads, but not exclusively heads of schools. To be alongside them to be, if you like, a  offline source of discussion and, and, and thinking, and I do think, I do think it's the role of the chair [00:28:00] and other members of the board to, to mentor the chief executive to be available to them for discussion and so on, but they, they may not always be comfortable to talk openly with with a member of the board.

After all, these are the people who hired me. They're the people who've got the power of life and death over my career. I'm not necessarily going to want to unpack an anxiety I've got with them as fully as I might with somebody who is more behind the scenes or, or to the side or not part of the organization.

So I think the coaching role, As a, I don't like the term safe space, but a  safe space for the chief executive is, is really important and not least because they often want to talk about their relationship with the board, not necessarily because it's bad, but because they want to understand how to make it better, or understand how to make it most effective, especially the relationship with the [00:29:00] chair.

The chair CEO relationship is at the heart of what makes the interface between the board and the organization a success or not. So so if, if for example, I'm, I'm coaching the CEO and there's a new chair, that, that CEO might be asking me, How she can work out what it is that the chair really wants or how often she should meet with the chair informally between meetings or how, how far she can be prescriptive about the way she wants to do her role, how far she needs to be taking her tone from the, from the chair and so on and so forth.

So everything about how that dynamic will work. Can be discussed with, with a coach in a very relaxed way. And much more so than, obviously, you've got to discuss it with the chair as well, but, but it can be a, if you like, a preparatory conversation. So I think, I [00:30:00] think the two roles are very different.

In terms of using consultants generally, and the board using consultants, and , I've certainly, the boards where I'm involved in, have frequently engaged a firm of consultants to do a piece of, to do a study on a particular subject, and this wouldn't be a, An area where I would be consulting, but I don't know, on, on doing some financial modeling or doing some benchmarking about employment law or , doing some benchmarking on gender and diversity and so on.

 I think a huge amount of money is spent by boards on studies of that kind very often. The results are equally awaited. There'll be a PowerPoint presentation. There'll be a lengthy, very beautifully produced report. And not much will change as a result of that expensive piece of work having been done.

And quite often it's because If you, if as the chair, you really surface the expertise that you've got within the board [00:31:00] itself, you've got the knowledge, you've got the experience, and , what you could just as well do, would be create a small working party of two or three people from the board to take a deep dive into that problem, to make some recommendations to the board, and come up with results which are just as compelling, and...

Possibly even more workable than those produced by people who don't know the organization as well. So, I think it can be a place for using consultants, but I, I think it's, it should happen only when the expertise around the board table has been exhausted. And it very rarely is exhausted. There's usually more there if you take time to do your skills audit thoroughly and really get people really thinking about what they can bring to the board table. 

Oliver Cummings: Really interesting. You touched on the role that you often play there between coaching the CEO and the CEO [00:32:00] chair relationship. Are there common patterns that you see emerging there about what the most common issues? are when those relationships go wrong or are strained. 

Clarissa Farr: I think the most important thing to agree about is where the line is drawn between the non-executive strategic role of the chair and the executive delivery role of the CEO.

And that both sides are comfortable with where that line gets drawn. And I'm not saying that Necessarily drawn in the same place in every relationship, in every organization, but it must be drawn. So the distinction used to be that a board's role is to be eyes on and hands off. Now, certainly in an education setting, where there's now so much [00:33:00] emphasis on child protection and safeguarding, board members are personally responsible.

So being hands off actually is not really an option now. You have to get in, you have to not only approve policy, you have to Demonstrate that policy is being carried out in action and that you can give examples of that and so on. So, board members in certain areas, in certain sectors have had to get much more involved in the business of the day to day life of the organization than was ever the case in the past.

So it's not a straightforward thing. But I think for this to be mutual respect between chair and chief executive where you understand that in terms of strategy. You're forging it together. The board can't run off on its own and create a strategy and just land it on the executive team and tell them to deliver it.

They have to, the executive team has to be part of forging the strategy so that [00:34:00] it's got all the ambition and, and drive that the board wants. But it's also within the capability of this, of the top team to deliver that they're not set up to fail by. being saddled with a strategy, which is impossible.

And, which is doomed to failure. So that has to be forged so that both, both sides are comfortable. And they have to keep talking to each other and it's not, it's not enough ever for the chair only to be communicating with the CEO. in advance of the formal meetings. There needs to be a dynamic relationship between those individuals which breaks the surface informally from time to time and the cadence of that has to work according to the What is comfortable and feels most efficacious from both sides.

I mean, some chairs are far too all over the organization and make the CEO [00:35:00] feel constrained and claustrophobic. Others are never available and make the CEO feel exposed and lacking, confidence , so that balance has to be struck, but I think forging that cadence is important, being really clear on the difference between where the interface is going to be between strategic framing and executive delivery is really important as well.

And I think the other thing is total transparency and trust. One of the best things that I was told when I first became a head was don't let the governors have any surprises. If there's going to be bad news, tell them before they find it out some other way. And that has to go for the chair CEO relationship as well.

So the CEO needs to feel that he or she can pick up the phone and tell the bad news to the chair before it breaks anywhere else, not be afraid to do so. So I think those are some of [00:36:00] the things that make for a productive relationship. And the chair has to be making sure that that CEO feels affirmed, appreciated.

If they want to hang on to them because being the CEO is a lonely role, there's only one of you and  if the chair doesn't show some appreciation, nobody else may, may do so. And you're probably getting a lot of flack from everywhere else and criticism from everywhere else. Not forgetting the CEO authentically and genuinely and for real reasons. It's incredibly important and powerful to do that. 

Oliver Cummings: Yeah. And that's where I feel that the chairs who've had a CEO role themselves are often much better at that than those who haven't, because they know what it is to walk in those shoes. What an amazing way to wrap up. Time has flown. It's time to go on to the six question quickfire where I'm going to say a statement and ask you for a short response if you're ready.

Clarissa Farr: I think I'm just [00:37:00] about to be ready. Yeah, I am ready. 

Oliver Cummings: So first up is the best book every board member should read and why? 

Clarissa Farr: Well, I've already mentioned Nancy Klein's The Promise That Changes Everything. That is a fabulous book, but I've also just recently read Ben Freyberg's and Dan Gardner's book, How Big Things Get Done, which is a fabulous book about.

The importance of long planning and then fast execution as opposed to short planning and overexcited execution, which then runs into the sand and they've got very big scale examples of that. So how big things get done because boards are always grappling with strategy and trying to translate vision into real work and real difference.

And I think. That that great difficulty is answered at least in part by that 

Oliver Cummings: Brilliant. I will add that to my list. I don't know it. Your favorite quote and why 

Clarissa Farr: I can't remember who said this but [00:38:00] I used to use it in Speech day addresses to students, but I think it works for the board level as well You can make more friends in six months by taking interest in other people Than you can in six years by trying to get other people to take an interest in you so for the board, it's the, the ability to really, for a chair, to really engage with other members of the board, to be really curious and interested about who they are, what they are, why they're at the table and that motivates people and means that you will get the best out of them, rather than being the big I am and , encouraging everybody to be impressed by you.

Oliver Cummings: Brilliant. Your most significant professional insight?

Clarissa Farr: I was, well, it's obviously something very simple. The best ideas are also very simple. Do the thing that you least want to do first on any day. 

Oliver Cummings: Swallow the frog. Love it. Favorite podcast? 

Clarissa Farr: I'm not sure I have a favorite podcast. Although I'm sure it should be something to do with my new role. But my favorite app is Strava.[00:39:00] Because I try to keep a grip on my running and try to do a bit of surveillance on my kids and they're running as well and we're all linked up on Strava

Oliver Cummings: fantastic. And lastly, but not least three things that someone listening to this should take away if they take nothing else.

Clarissa Farr: I think that being involved in a project that you care about. It's incredibly rewarding and that good and mature and effective boards really are a part of the fuel that makes an organization successful. So, being on a board is a really important and good thing to do. And I would love to encourage more people to be using Nurole to find their next board challenge and take that away.

That we should be listening much more to young people. The wisdom of experience is greatly overrated, and that in today's world, we need to learn from the young. I've always been fortunate to work with young people. I continue to do so, and I learn [00:40:00] from them all the time. 

And yeah, I think my last thing is probably about leading a varied life and keeping active physically. This, as I said, running is very important to me and I think we should all have a thing that we do that takes us out of the boardroom and away from our papers and into the fresh air. 

Oliver Cummings: Wow, Clarissa, that has been an absolute privilege.Thank you so much for taking the time to share all your wisdom. I feel like I've learned lots and I'm sure those listening will have too. Thank 

Clarissa Farr: Thank you, Ollie. It's been a great pleasure. I really enjoyed it.

🎙️ You can listen to the full podcast interview with Clarissa on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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