With memories of the financial crisis still fresh in our minds and questions of “Where were the boards?” still abounding, today’s directors face extraordinary challenges.

The better boards had always provided sound advice and counsel to senior management. But for years many boards largely focused on their monitoring role, providing closer oversight of management’s activities and compliance with a seemingly endless string of new laws and regulations. Now, however, boards are seeking a more appropriate balance—continuing to look over management’s shoulder for compliance matters, but also getting back to adding real value on strategic issues.

Against this backdrop, let’s take ...