Creating Emotional Safety from Scratch: Tips for Viacom

We’ve been seeing a lot of drama out of the Viacom boardroom in the last several months, but now there is finally some movement forward for the company.

Viacom will be replacing their CEO, Phillipe Dauman with Tom Dooley. This comes after a long battle between Dauman and the Redstone family (who control most of the board). While the details of this departure are salacious and quite interesting, we are more interested in the challenge that Tom Dooley is being presented with.

Dooley is coming into a unique situation. He worked very closely with Dauman for many years, and now he has to show that he is the change the company needs. Not only does he need to present an effective type of leadership, but he also needs to reunite the Viacom board after the constant stress and chaos of his predecessor.

There are a few steps that Dooley can take to make this transition not only positive but profitable.

1. Create emotional safety. Dooley should meet with every board member individually. He probably knows all of the board members, but he is in a new position and will be working with them on a much closer level so he should take some time to really hear what each director has to say.

In this process, he can demonstrate being an accessible, responsive, and engaged leader. He can listen to each person’s concerns, understanding each board member’s worries, and be emotionally engaged as the company moves into a new chapter for the company.

By meeting with each board member separately, Dooley will be able to control emotions better creating safety for himself and board members which were clearly lacking in the past. This is what the Airgas board did when they found themselves with three hostile directors on the board. The CEO met with the new directors each individually and slowly was able to create emotional bonding that is necessary for directors to care about the company and the board.

Emotional safety is the prerequisite for directors to feel comfortable and safe to share information and develop better solutions.

2. Implement mandatory engagement. Dooley should have a meeting with the entire board where he opens the floor for questions and makes sure that everyone has a chance to speak and be heard.

Being heard goes back to our need to belong. When we feel that we are heard, we start to feel much more connected to the board and the company. This helps the board to be more open and transparent.

By having a mandatory engagement, the board can work with him to make sure that the strategy fits the mission and vision of Viacom. The dialogue that comes out of that meeting will likely develop a better plan and better relationships between board members and the executive team.

3. Create an emotional connection. Dooley’s goal shouldn’t be just to calm the fears down that are left from the former CEO. Dooley’s goal is to address the fears of every individual director.

Fear is one of the worst emotions to have present in the boardroom.

It feeds into stress and diminishes cognitive function. This leads to poor and irrational decisions which in a time of change can be detrimental to the company.

Because Dooley worked so closely with Dauman inside and outside of Viacom, the board probably has some reservations about what he plans to do. This is going to be a huge challenge for Dooley, but by addressing their concerns, as well as each of their questions, and by having open dialogue he will be able to build a safe environment that is a must for creating an effective and collaborative board.

More than anything else, Dooley needs to show that he is an engaging leader that can care about the company, cares about employees, and deeply cares about the shareholders.

Dooley should practice reflective listening and try to be more emotionally responsive with his board members. Actively practicing the four roles – expert, facilitator, morale builder, and integrator – will help him in fulfilling his role as an effective leader

We are excited to see how Dooley takes on his new role and the relationships he builds with his board. It won’t be easy, but Viacom has so much potential to return to being a giant in the entertainment industry.

For more information on how to work through CEO and board transitions, please contact us.

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