It’s super important that you have a trusting relationship, where you both work in partnership to lead the organization. And we’ve all seen it. An abuse of power, or the confusion around roles, or the lack of interaction; a weak relationship can manifest in many ways.
And a weak relationship between the Board Chair and CEO hurts everyone – other board members, staff and most importantly, the people who benefit from your services. You can’t optimize your impact if you aren’t on the same page and enthusiastically pulling in the same direction.
On the other hand, the successful Board Chairs and CEOs understand the responsibility they have to define how the organization will function. They are the ones who create the culture they desire within the board and build social capital among other members.
They count on each other; they trust each other and they lead together in partnership. So let’s be sure you’re on track.
Try these 3 steps to strengthen your relationship:
1. The early conversation. Hopefully you have a succession plan and have identified the next Chair well before their term begins. Months before they take office, have a series of conversations with them to build trust and respect.
Be sure to clarify roles so you’re not stepping all over each other and also not missing any essential oversight, for instance. Ask how they prefer to communicate, as this is the foundation of a successful partnership. Find out where they feel vulnerable and might welcome some coaching. Also get clear on what motivates them; then remember that and frame your work accordingly.
I get that this person is the CEO’s supervisor. Don’t let that freak you out! Instead, ask each other what you expect from one another and have an honest conversation about goals early in the relationship.
And if you’re already into the term, go ahead and have this conversation anyway. Better late than never!
2. Ongoing check-ins. Schedule them. In addition to your typical work, perhaps you set up quarterly meetings out of the office where you can discuss progress to goals, board member participation, issues that concern you, etc.
This is an excellent opportunity to lift yourselves up out of the regular work flow to reflect or think bigger. It’s also a good time to be candid about how you’re working together and ensure roles are clear.
Wouldn’t it be cool if you could say, “I know we said we’d communicate by email primarily but I’m feeling we’re missing some key points? How would you feel about leaving the door open for a monthly call, and if we don’t need it, we can pass?” May seem like a minor point but it’s important that you feel comfortable expressing even the small stuff if it’s not working.
3. Acknowledge and Appreciate. This goes both ways. The Board Chair is the CVO (Chief Volunteer Officer) and brings unique talent and commitment to this position. Are they seen as a valuable resource?
The CEO is a trained professional and expert in their field. Are they recognized as such by the board? (And by the way, they have to manage a rotating Board Chair position every couple of years!)
Invest in recognizing that both positions can be challenging. Thank each other for your time, service, brilliance, intentions and successes. Enjoy a cocktail together sometime, without an agenda, for goodness sake. This work isn’t for sissies!
The Board Chair and CEO relationship directly impacts your mission work. I hope you don’t take it lightly.