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About the Art of Board Work with Frank the Dog (if only he could talk)

Updated: Jun 15, 2023


Inspired by conversations to deepen my creative practice, a recent walk around Kelham Island revealed Frank the Dog; a popular work by local legend Pete McKee. Starting out as a factory worker in Sheffield, Pete is well-known and much loved in his hometown for brightening up many a brick wall in and around the city.


Applying magical realism and bringing Frank the Dog to life reveals interesting perspectives. In the existing and conventional world, dogs are usually kept as pets and regarded as dependent on their owners. However, imagining a conversation with Frank as a senior executive and independent contributor revealed an acute observer of human nature from a different perspective. Asked about the knowledge skills and attributes recommended for senior executives and board members, he provided valuable insights from an unusual standpoint.


“It all starts with honesty: That means keeping your nose out the (human) biscuit tin. Board members are usually well rewarded for what they know and do. VUCA operating environments mean that anyone taking on a board or executive position has a difficult and demanding role. Although usually well-rewarded – financially or intangibly – there needs to be separation between you and the organisation you serve. Although tempting to prise open the lid, good never comes of it.” At the very least you’ll make a mess on the carpet. At worst, it’s an emergency rush to the vet. I should know…..”


“Consider your place in the pack: Take your cues from the Chair, as there’s a reason why s/he are called the ‘Top Dog’. There may also be other committee members you come to trust and admire. Growling at other board members is not professional conduct and rarely achieves anything beyond making unwanted noise. Showing your teeth only causes unnecessary disruption.”


“Play nicely in the park: Board members can be expected to act as ambassadors for their organisations. That’s showing up with your coat brushed and nails clipped. It also means taking your turn with the ball and not leaving in the middle of a game to raid the bins. If that happens once too often, you’re unlikely to be let off the lead in public. Not to mention a reputation for troublesome behaviour for you and your humans.”


“Know what you’re good at: As a whippet, I’ve been bred for high-speed chase. Show me a rabbit and I’m off. As for standing guard, you’d want a German Shepherd, a Doberman or a Rottweiler to do that. They’re big, look scary and have sharper teeth. That’s also why it’s so important to have a diverse range of skills and abilities on board. Regardless of their physical attributes, each one needs to know how best to contribute within the pack and also behave well outside.”


“Explore your surroundings: Take the time you need to sniff around. Running in circles will only tire yourself out before the work has even started. Learn the culture and read the power dynamics. Marking someone else’s territory could get you into trouble. In addition, make sure you get to know the business you’re leading. Get acquainted with the people in it and find out what they do. Otherwise, whereas you could be interfering when it’s not needed. For instance, don’t mistake the delivery man for a burglar and bite him on the leg. He’s only trying to do his job.”


“Finally, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Board work requires experience and practice, which comes with time. I’ve been up on that wall for nearly a decade, so have seen a lot over the years. None-the-less, someone still needs to come and refresh the paintwork every now and then, otherwise it cracks and fades. Same for board members, who also need the appropriate training and continue professional development to earn their [dog] biscuits.”


Thank you, Frank.


“You’re very welcome”.


SOURCES

Bowers, Maggie A. 2004. Magic(al) Realism. New York: Routledge. Print. p

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