Executive recruitment firm Russell Reynolds asked 369 company directors from a dozen countries which factors were key to establishing a strong culture and effective board.
The company expected the results to vary across regions because each country has its own unique governance regime and accepted cultural norms. Japan, for example, has a top-down management ethos where you’d think directors would express themselves more modestly when questioning other leaders.
Remarkably, apart from a few exceptions, the survey appeared to dispel many cultural stereotypes, with the respondents’ top five picks turning out to be similar, regardless of their location.
The number-one quality selected was ‘possess the courage to do the right thing for the right reasons’, which scored a weighted ranking of 13.3 out of 100. The next most popular attribute was ‘willing to constructively challenge management when appropriate’, while ‘possess independent perspective’ and ‘avoids groupthink’ also made the top five.
‘Seeking to understand others’ perspectives’ came in at sixth, with a score of 5.9, while ‘actively cultivating a relationship with the CEO’ came in at 16th, with a measly score of 1.1.
“The five most important director behaviors identified topped the rankings for every region we surveyed,” Russell Reynolds said. “This suggests that the desired qualities of an effective director transcend cultural customs and regional differences.”
Of course, there were some more subtle differences observed between countries.
American directors, for example, were 8% less likely than the global average to step over the line from oversight into operations and management—perhaps indicating that the role of the board is more clearly defined in the U.S.
British directors placed 30% greater value on keeping discussions focused on the matter at hand and staying on topic, while Japanese directors were more than twice as likely to value cultivating a relationship with the CEO.
This is hardly surprising, given that most Japanese boards comprise executive management rather than independent directors, Russell Reynolds said.