It is time again for a change of the guard in government-related entities. In recent months, elections have been held in several countries in the Dutch Caribbean. Shifts in power in Caribbean governments often lead to changes in the staffing of executive boards and supervisory boards in government-related organisations. From the perspective of corporate governance principles, this is not the intention. After all, the interests of the organisation should always come first, not the political interests of the government that (happens) to be in charge. Unfortunately, that is the theory. The practice is more obstinate. That is why it is good for newly appointed directors or supervisory directors to take a look in the mirror before accepting the appointment. What do you see when you take a good look in the mirror? Your motivation.

There are all kinds of reasons for accepting an appointment as a supervisory director. You may do so out of a desire for prestige, for power, for money, out of a sense of duty, for your own development or that of your career, out of a need to serve and finally to mean something to society. There is nothing wrong with any of those reasons. They are all legitimate and respectable. What matters, however, is the right ratio, the motivational mix. The crux of the matter is its composition. Usually, each of the elements mentioned plays a certain role. The question is how big a role they play in relation to their importance. That may sound abstract, but it is not. I will give a few examples. There are people who have a motivational mix of, say, 60% the desire to exercise power, 20% the desire to increase their prestige and 20% the need for (more) money. If those people get on your supervisory board, then you are pretty much out of luck as a director. You also have people who have a completely different mix, for example 50% the will to serve, to add value to the organisation and 50% the will to develop themselves. Incidentally, they are not always the best supervisory directors either.

It goes without saying that the interpretation is also important: is the exercise of power about blunt domination or is it a well-considered interpretation of participative leadership? Is the desire to add value accompanied by an obtrusive need to convince others of one’s own right, or is it a deliberate but well-considered desire to help improve the organisation? Is money about ever more of it or about the desire for a reasonable fee for services rendered so that there is a proper balance between the two? In other words, each of these reasons has a spectrum that ranges from a negative interpretation to a positive one.

Ideally, a supervisory director should have a clearly critical, but supportive function – supporting the organisation, that is. A strong desire for self-development, the desire to learn and the desire to broaden one’s career prospects are also fine, as is the desire for a decent salary. It is better, though, if the latter is not too significant, just like the desire for prestige.

Prospective supervisory directors: I hereby urge you to look in the mirror and do that self-examination. When selecting candidates, I urge organisations not only to look at the educational profile, background and experience of the candidates, but also to thoroughly research their motivation. The easiest way to do this is by simply asking the candidates. Ask the question, “Why do you really want this?” If the answer does not come across honestly or is unclear, or if the mix appears to be wrong: do not appoint!