Board member has an idea. It's a good idea. It catches fire at the Board table. Other Board members nod their heads and voice their support. This is something we should do. This will create real value. This will make a difference.
CEO also nods his head. But inside that head, CEO's mind in racing. That? They want us to do that? How can we possibly do that? We don't have the resources. We don't have the expertise. We don't have the will to sustain it beyond the boundaries of this Board table. CEO knows this. He knows the capacities of the organization better than any member of the Board. He knows what's possible and what isn't. Or at least thinks he does.
CEO then does something pivotal. It doesn't appear so, but it is. He keeps nodding his head, writing the idea down on the piece of paper in front of him. "Yes, great idea," he says. "We'll do that. We absolutely will. Now, what about this next issue?"
Board members exchange looks with one another. Some are fooled, thinking that success will certainly follow, but a few are not. A few know they have just been lied to, but they keep their mouths shut, even the Board member who originally had the idea. They're not ready for a fight. Because to survive, they realize that their idea will have to fight against the entrenched power of the CEO, who can with the stroke of a pen can elevate certain ideas to the center of the organization's attention and banish others to the lowest possible priority of their strategic plan.
Here's a confession. At different times in my career, I've been both the Board member and the CEO in this scene. And as frustrating as it has been to be that Board member, I see now how destructive it can be to be that kind of CEO.
Don't say it if you don't mean it. You might think that you're saving the organization (and yourself) a lot of headache and fuss, but you're not. What you're in fact doing is poisoning the trust and sense of partnership that must exist between a CEO and his Board if the organization is going to succeed.
Rather than say "Great idea, we'll do it," ask "Great idea, what will it take for us to do it?" If you don't think the organization has the resources, the expertise or the commitment to deliver, say that, and get your Board talking about what it will take to build the capacity so that the truly great ideas can be realized.