Half-day Board Development seminar

Leadership and governance in high stakes situations – Recognising the behaviours that undermine our effectiveness and our relationships

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At this Board Development seminar, we will explore our behavioural preferences when we get into ‘high stakes’ – when we are under pressure, when problems emerge, when things go wrong, when anxiety and discomfort are experienced so intensely that it produces an almost involuntary behavioural response. Often, in a high stakes situation, the dark or shadow side of our behaviours emerge and we can find ourselves inadvertently undermining our own effectiveness, our relationships with colleagues and our Board’s success.

Join us to discover your own behavioural profile. Through a series of interactive exercises led by our trainer, Margaret Williamson, you will have the opportunity to:

  • Recognise what personal triggers or external events are likely to provoke your own shadow behaviours
  • Understand which behaviours you are likely to adopt in high stakes situations and the likely consequences for you and your fellow Board Members
  • Learn how to lower the stakes in such situations and minimise the impact of your default shadow behaviours


MARGARET WILLIAMSON, Director, Boardroom Development Limited
At our last Board Development masterclasses in June, we explored the impact of our behavioural preferences on the conversations we have and the relationships we build with our fellow Board members. It focused on our behaviours in everyday ‘low stakes’ situations: when everything is going well and the positive side of our behaviours dominate.

Yet, those who lead and govern our public services today face significant challenges and pressures. To meet a rising demand for services with limited budgets and resources. To make efficiencies and savings, yet maintain and improve service quality, reliability and safety. All to be achieved within a climate of continuous change and of rising consumer expectations. Against this backdrop, Board Members often find themselves operating in what they perceive to be ‘high stakes’ situations.

What constitutes high stakes is different for each of us. It can be triggered by external events – the loss of a key avenue of funding; the need to take an unpopular decision (such as removing or reducing a valued public service); conflicts within the team or an embarrassing corporate failure. It can be related to our own default behaviours or be a response to our past experiences – for example, fear of failure, fear of change, fear of radical difference or fear of being publicly humiliated.

In high stakes we tend to adopt a particular behavioural posture which has both a dark and a light side. We may become the Judge, the Advocate or the Prosecutor. We also tend to adopt one or more Heroic Modes – we want to fix things, protect people or survive no matter what the cost. But each of these also has a shadow side. We can become victims, aggressors or become detached and remote from all around us. Whatever posture or mode we adopt, an ordinary situation can be transformed into a ‘dangerous’ one. Thinking can become clouded, often obsessive, and our judgment and ability to lead and guide our organisations at the most critical moments can be reduced.


Registration and morning refreshments

Welcome and Introductions
Our trainer: Margaret Williamson, Director, Boardroom Development Limited

Masterclass Outline, Objectives and Guidelines

What is a ’high-stakes’ situation?

  • Low, medium and high stakes
  • Recognising the symptoms
  • ‘High-stakes’ in the Boardroom

What causes the stakes to rise for individuals and Boards?

  • External and Internal Causes
  • Context, triggers, our nemesis and the role of the story (including time for individual reflection and a group exercise)
  • A Board System in crisis

Tea and coffee break, opportunities for networking

Adopting a Moral Stance – Prosecutor, Adjudicator and Advocate
(including a self-assessment exercise)

The emergence of ‘the hero’ and our shadow behaviours

  • Heroic Modes (including a self-assessment exercise)
  • The Shadow side (including a small group exercise)

Lowering the stakes for ourselves and our fellow Board/team members
(including an individual exercise and opportunities for individual and group reflection)

Seminar close

Sandwich lunch and opportunities for networking


Margaret Williamson
Margaret Williamson, Director, Boardroom Development Limited
Margaret Williamson is an organisation development consultant specialising in improving the performance of Boards and Executive Teams. She has been Director of Boardroom Development Limited, an independent strategy and organisation development consulting practice for the past 23 years and prior to that held senior positions in finance and consulting. A champion of boardroom diversity, she created the Boardroom Mentor Programme, the first competency-based programme for women non-executive directors in the UK. She has extensive experience as a non-executive director and audit chair in the public and social enterprise sectors.

Registration for this event has now closed.


Standard rate
(Available to all attendees from public, private and third sectors)

Small group rate
(For groups of three attendees)

Large group rate
(For groups of five attendees)

Full Team/Board rate
(For groups of at least 8 attendees, up to a maximum of 20 attendees. This will usually involve one of the training sessions being reserved solely for this group.)

The Burns Room,
6 Waterloo Place,


Located at the East End of Princes Street, the venue is a short walk from Waverley Train Station, Edinburgh Bus Station and tram stops at St Andrew Square and York Place.