Inside an A+ Board Meeting: 5 Rules of a Top CEO

By Elizabeth Weil, featuring Andrew McLeod (Co-Founder & CEO, Certn)

Most early stage founders learn to run board meetings the hard way — trial and error. And with remote work as the new norm, there hasn’t been a lot shared on how to run a great board meeting over Zoom.

So what does a great board meeting look like in 2021 when you are a pre-seed, seed, or Series A company?

I’ve sat on a number of boards, and seen them from both sides of the table. I know how hard this stuff is. And what’s worse, board meetings are typically private, so for most founders, your only way to know what great looks like is to guess.

Today I’m sharing an inside view of some of the best Zoom-based board meetings I’ve participated in — run by Andrew McLeod at Certn.

Here are his “5 Rules” for running unusually great board meetings:

  1. Great board meetings start before the meeting.

Let’s break them down…

Rule #1 — Great board meetings start before the meeting.

Think of your board as leverage. You can’t leverage them well if 90% of the meeting is spent on updates, and you lose further leverage if everyone is reacting to new information in the moment. Your job is to create a powerful, repeatable method to inform and inspire thoughtful input — before they even walk in the room.

Further, with board meetings now primarily on Zoom, the durations have shrunk by as much as 50%. So how does your format need to change?

Here’s Andrew’s playbook:

  • Send a video. Instead of running through last quarter’s updates on Zoom, send a video update. Vimeo or Loom can work well. Ask the whole board to watch it the week before the meeting.

Investor POV:

  • I typically watch the video at 1.2x speed and then send them any questions or bits that I highlighted while watching.

Rule #2 — Great board meetings highlight what’s working in the pre-meeting materials, but focus on what’s concerning or not working

“We’re killing it” is a great way to kill the leverage a board offers. Not only is it usually false, but it often signifies that you as a CEO cannot be forthcoming about what’s not working. Every company has warts, and board meetings are the place to put them on full display.

Here’s Andrew’s playbook:

  • Set the stage. At the top of your deck and video, share the 3–4 challenges most on the team’s mind. These should be the 3–4 things you want the board to focus most on in their support.

Investor POV:

  • The Certn board meetings are fully transparent right until the end, when Andrew spins his chair around, keeps us all on Zoom, and we talk about “Andrew as a leader.” This kind of transparency and openness has blown us all away. Andrew has shown the board that he’s open to hearing direct feedback, and has the curiosity and desire to grow and improve as a leader.

Rule #3 — Great board meetings are not a CEO show

Strong CEOs know that most parts of running a startup are not a CEO show. The board meeting is no exception. Do not underestimate how powerful a tool board meetings are for your leadership team.

Here’s Andrew’s playbook on how to use board meetings for leadership team growth:

  • Focus company leaders on strategy. Most companies focus on strategy 1x/year but that’s not enough. Board meeting prep is a force function for your leaders to reconsider strategy multiple times a year, making your company and leaders stronger.

Investor POV:

  • When we can see the team effort at play, we can see how the Certn leaders communicate with each other. This makes evident Andrew’s empowering leadership style and sends a strong signal to the board about how the exec team collaborates.

Rule #4 — Great board meetings have a clear, repeatable structure

Remember that your board likely goes to many of these meetings, many of which are run differently (and maybe not well). By repeating your meeting structure again and again, it will make this group be better board members because they’ll see exactly what is expected of them.

Here’s Andrew’s playbook:

Email to the board (laying out the structure):

  • Minimal preamble — just get right to the info

Deck structure (send to the Board to review the Friday before a Board Meeting):

  • Key updates and initiatives

Agenda structure (drop into a Gdoc and add the link in the email):

  • Housekeeping

Investor POV:

  • Speed matters. When you make the process repeatable it gets faster, increasing ROI for everyone.

Rule #5 Great board meetings continue after the meeting.

A meeting is only as good as what happens after it. It’s important that both you, the CEO, and your leadership team prioritize a series of steps following the meeting to put ideas into action.

Here’s Andrew’s playbook:

  • What rises to the top? After the board meeting, take a day (not longer) to digest the conversation. What rises to the top? What are the pieces of feedback that were heard? What are the top 3 things your board believes should change or improve?

Investor POV:

  • Seeing the post-meeting process at Certn is another signal to the board of the team quality. It makes us believe even more that this is the team that will win.

Thanks to Andrew McLeod, and the Certn team for their support on this essay, and for making this resource available to the entire founder community.

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Elizabeth Bailey Weil

Founder and GP @ Scribble ( Prev. a16z, Twitter. Investor: SpaceX, Slack, Coinbase, Figma, Clubhouse, Calm, Grab. & more. Mom of 3. Ultra-runner.