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Monthly Reflections Blog: To belong or not to belong? The question for Board Directors

Monthly Reflections Blog: To belong or not to belong? The question for Board Directors

The notion of belonging is one of the four so called ordering principles that the eminent psychotherapist Bert Hellinger and others talk of. Our rational brains might get caught up in the notion of “what is belonging?“ but at any moment in any place, we instinctively know whether we belong or not. This equally applies to our work and non-work lives: it could be the organisation we work in or consult with, any social groupings or clubs we are part of, or the community or country where we live. It is a fundamental part of being a human being that we need to belong and we notice when we don’t belong.

Consider the person who has grown up in an organisation and then gets promoted to the Executive Board or becomes CEO. Suddenly all the parameters around belonging get disrupted and change. No longer can he or she be seen to belong to the rank and file. Their new responsibilities mean that they have in some senses to combine being “insiders“ with being sufficient of an “outsider“ to bring the broader perspective to decision making that is required of a Board Director. Their ability to bring the “outside in“ to the organisation needs to be just as strong as their sense of “belonging“ within the organisation.

Taking this one step further, reflect then on the move from executive to non-executive roles. Here, in one sense, there is greater clarity. Your job is absolutely to bring an external objective perspective and arguably to inhabit the role of “non-belonging outsider“. Very few things are that one dimensional and obviously at the same time it is important to establish close relationships with colleagues on the Board. That notwithstanding, many first time NEDs report missing that sense of belonging that they had in their executive roles.

Like NEDs, as coaches or consultants we must never “belong“ in an organisational system to the extent that we become part of it. That way we too will suffer from the same inevitable blindness that afflicts people within it. “There are none so blind as those who will not see“ is an expression most of us are familiar with. The second part is equally true: “the most deluded people are those who choose to ignore what they already know“.

Board Directors need to be aware that the need to belong, amongst other things, can result in delusion.

For more information, please contact Judith Nicol, Director of Leadership Services.

Posted by Judith Nicol on


Judith Nicol

Judith Nicol

Director, Leadership Services

Judith joined Warren Partners recently and heads up the leadership coaching practice, which works exclusively with boards, board directors and senior leaders.

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