Choose Your (Fictional) Board Members. I Dare You.
My four board members were Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, Joseph Campbell and David Townsend, a favorite college history professor whose influence on me continues to this day.
At one point during difficult days as a CEO I needed to talk desperately and there was no one near that I could speak to objectively and candidly, without some level of compromise. I was, after all, the leader and others (including my wife and family) looked to me to have the vision and the answers.
Desperate to coherently gather and document my thoughts, I drafted a board dialogue in which I presented my issues and four hand-picked board members responded. This fictional exchange stayed within the privacy of my own study, my pen, my journal and my thoughts until I decided to share it here and now…
My four board members were Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, Joseph Campbell and David Townsend, a favorite college history professor whose influence on me continues to this day. I began my presentation with a succinctly outlined menu of issues. One by one, my board members offered their various perspectives:
Twain took the lead, counseling on the humor, drama and juxtaposition of the human condition, careful to anecdotally underscore his own business shortcomings.
Einstein first questioned the actual facts I was facing in contrast to my explanation of them in an effort to distil the real issues. He delicately lifted and segregated fact from emotion.
Dave Townsend, my former professor, a family friend and trusted soul, offered insight into the human condition, echoing the insights of both Mark and Albert. He was careful to highlight those aspects of my heritage that only he among the board members had access to, having known me since I was in high school and also being acquainted with my parents and the business I was steward of.
Finally, Joseph Campbell, as only Campbell can, eloquently tied all of their observations into a beautifully articulated summary of the predictable “calling” that I was experiencing and included references from the myths and stories of the ages.
He said: “One has only to know and trust, and the ageless guardians will appear. Having responded to his own call, and continuing to follow courageously as the consequences unfold, the hero finds all the forces of the unconscious at his side. Mother Nature herself supports the mighty task. And in so far as the hero’s act coincides with that for which his society is ready, he seems to ride on the great rhythm of the historical process.”
Until that moment, I had never been referred to as a “hero,” and had certainly not viewed myself as one or thought of my journey was a “Hero’s Journey.” To my surprise, the other board members nodded their agreement with Joseph. Their confirmation provided much of the grit and inspiration I needed to do what I knew I had to do to get through the next difficult and trying six years as CEO.
In hindsight those years of trepidation and pain were in many respects a necessary portal that led to my life’s calling. I would not have the confidence in my skills, the perspective in my counsel or the reservoir of wisdom that guides me today had I not been to the precipice of defeat and returned a victor. I am thankful for my journey.