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EP: 62 – Can you Rise to the Top without Losing Your Soul with Douglas Board

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Introduction: Douglas Board has enjoyed a backstage pass into Britons power bases for over 30 years. As a head-hunter he was a gatekeeper for some of the country’s high places working for a leading Executive Search firm called Saxton Bampfylde, where he later became deputy Chairman. Douglas holds several board positions one of which was as Treasurer for the Diana, Princess of Wales Trust. In 2010 he received a doctorate looking at how we chose Leaders. Douglas is also an author and his latest book is called Elites, How to rise to the top without losing your soul. 


Podcast Episode Summary

This episode explores the journey that Douglas has been on over the last 15 years. A serendipitous encounter with migrant construction workers in Mumbai in 2006 disrupted Douglas enough to consider jumping off his hamster wheel of work and his rather rarefied life  to consider what he might not be seeing of the world and life. He pursued a Doctorate, employed Coaching as a way to make a living and wrote several books including his latest called. Elites. 

Points made over the episode

  • The last 15 years of Douglas Board’s life have been an exciting journey of exploration & discovery
  • In 2006, a study trip with Leaders Quest saw him face to face with migrant construction workers in Mumbai
  • That encounter altered the trajectory of his next 15 years
  • A Doctorate in 2010 awakened him to the subject of power & politics and how the way we are taught to think about these two topics is unhelpful 
  • Douglas was keen to learn how to offer his learning to others which motivated him to write and in particular write Elites. 
  • Douglas shares how the book was written and what it purports to share. He shares the 3 symbols he uses to delineate the subject matter under discussion. A mountain symbolises the reality of a senior level executive, a magnifying glass the ideas he shares and a squiggly arrow the journey Douglas is on
  • Elites was written for a number reasons but mostly to reach hidden heroes and heroines in organisations and then to bust some myths and illuminate the wizardry of corporate life
  • The book starts by sharing a survival guide for work over 10 walks. Douglas goes further to reveal the players in organisations and in particular the hidden heroes. He questions our definition of success and he offers the possibility that we may have been educated, certainly in the West, by the wrong idea of what it means to be human
  • We think too much in individualist terms by our solitary minds “I think therefore I am” when we are in fact much more connected 
  • Ubuntu is an African belief that says “ I am because you are” so our existence emerges and does not precede the social and the group
  • A team is either a collection of individual decision makers who chose to collaborate or It exists in the complexity of multiple human interactions, of which Team is one form, that human beings find their existence. 
  • Ubuntu says that parts of us are buried in other more diverse people and by implication means that we ought to be encouraged to explore and be curious to meet other people because you never know when you might meet part of yourself. 
  • The notion of Power changed for Douglas by year two of his Doctorate. 
  • Our typical definition of Power is often voiced as meaning the resources or techniques we use to get what we want 
  • If we assume the notion of Ubuntu that definition becomes very stupid indeed
  • We are a very anxious society. We know that connection is important for our survival and we seem to have forgotten how to be in connection 
  • One way is to master the skill of listening
  • We also have to dismantle our thinking about Power – accept that we know a lot already and getting to the top might not be the answer, it also might not have to be a selfish act
  • Douglas offers the ideas that we can be in more choice, we can look deeper into our organisations and recognise the heroes that exist and when we do get to the top to think about rolling on and give space for others to make a contribution before hubris sets in 
  • The question about dreaming about a world without politics is adeptly answered
  • There is beauty in a team making decisions using the triple lens of Science, Politics and Intuition 
  • We could think about Power as an incredible way of discerning patterns and dynamics and using that to inform new possibilities 
  • We need to open up the conversation about Power, accept it exists and employ it usefully for its potency for navigating trends/patterns/dynamics 
  • We assume our organisations are based on merit and often we protect that thinking. Power has often been silenced when instead it is a natural phenomenon. 
  • Douglas ends by sharing his optimism for this new way of thinking about Power and likens this shift to the open discussions about Sex that happened in the 1950s 

Resources shared 

  • Board, Douglas: Elites; Can you rise to the top without losing your soul? 

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