Suggestions to Enhance Working Relationship Between Board Chair and Chief Executive

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    Suggestions to enhance the Board Chair and CEO working relationship.

    © Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, Ph.D., Authenticity Consulting, LLC.

    Inherent Struggles Between Both

    Formal Practices and Procedures
    that Can Minimize Conflict

    Personal Practices to Minimize
    Interpersonal Conflicts

    If Worse Comes to Worse

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    Struggles Between Both Roles

    Many experts assert that one of the most important ingredients
    to a successful corporation (nonprofit or for-profit) is a high-quality
    relationship between the board chair and the chief executive.
    However, this relationship has several inherent struggles to overcome.
    The chief executive was usually in the organization before the
    the chair was appointed and will be around after the chair will be
    gone. In addition, the chief executive is also much closer to
    the day-to-day activities in the organization. Lastly, the chief
    executive usually knows far more about the organization’s customers.
    Consequently, the chief executive may feel that he or she knows
    far much more about the organization than the board chair. Yet,
    the board chair is responsible to provide leadership to the board
    to whom the chief executive is accountable. The board chair leads
    the board which evaluates the performance of the chief executive.
    Maintaining a high-quality relationship between the two roles
    requires a high level of maturity and understanding from both
    people filling those roles.

    Formal Practices
    and Procedures that Can Minimize Conflict

    One of the most effective means to minimize conflict
    between both roles is to set up formal practices or procedures
    that help both people in the roles discern between an organizational
    issue and a personal issue. The following suggestions are provided
    to help ensure a high-quality relationship between the board chair
    and chief executive by establishing formal practices and procedures.

    1. Have clearly written and approved procedures for evaluating
    the chief executive and in an approach that ensures strong input
    from the chief executive.
    2. Have regular board training sessions that include overviews
    of the roles of the board chair and chief executive.
    3. When a new board chair or chief executive is brought into the
    organization, the two of them should meet to discuss how they
    can work together as a team.
    4. Agendas for board meetings should be mutually developed by
    the board chair and chief executive.
    5. The board chair can consult with the chief executive when appointing
    (or suggesting to the board) chairs for various committees.
    6. Have clear written guidelines about the roles of staff when
    they provide ongoing support to board committees.
    7. Rotate the board chair position every few years to ensure new
    and fresh perspectives in the role.
    8. Develop board chairs by having vice chairs for a year who later
    become board chairs.
    9. Have a board-wide discussion about the frequency and nature
    of meetings to be held between the chief executive and board chair.
    Avoid frequent, one-on-one meetings that only include these two
    people. While it might intuitively seem that meeting with only
    these two to cultivate a strong relationship, the risk is too
    high that the relationship could become highly personalized and
    confusing to other board members. Always write down the highlights
    of meetings between the chief executive and board chair and share
    these highlights with the entire board.
    10. Ensure all board members are trained about the role of the
    board, its current committees, and their charters and membership,
    and that the board chair has basic skills in meeting management.
    11. The chief executive and board chair should never conceal information
    from the rest of the board. Board members pay prefer to keep certain
    information confidential among board members and not tell the
    chief executive, but these occasions should be very rare. The
    chief executive should never conceal information from the board
    — all board members have a right to any information about the
    12. Celebrate accomplishments, including naming the key people
    involved in bringing about the successes. Often these people include
    the board chair and chief executive.

    Practices to Minimize Interpersonal Conflicts

    In addition to formal practices to minimize conflicts,
    the two people in these two roles can follow certain practices
    themselves. If you’re a board chair or chief executive,
    1. Practice at least the basic skills in interpersonal communications,
    e.g., particularly in listening and giving feedback.
    2. Whenever you feel conflict, identify to yourself what it is
    that you’re actually seeing or hearing that might
    be causing the conflict. This attempt helps to differentiate whether
    the source of the conflict is the other person’s behavior or,
    e.g., some remnant of a relationship or situation in the past.
    (Note that whether the conflict is from the other person or not,
    it’s still appropriate to work with the other person to address
    at least your perception of a conflict with them.)
    3. If you’re feeling uneasy, then say out loud what you’re feeling.
    If you feel there’s conflict or tension between you two, name
    it out loud. This doesn’t mean you are “weaker” or out
    of control — quite the contrary. It displays a great deal of
    maturity and knowledge about interpersonal dynamics to recognize
    and surface conflict in order to mutually resolve it
    4. Recognize that conflict is inherent in any successful relationship,
    particularly in a board if all members are actively meeting their
    responsibilities. The important thing here, again, is to name
    it if you think it’s becoming an ongoing problem.
    5. Keep the perspective that no one should have to continue to experience
    continued conflicts with someone in their lives, including the
    workplace. Know when to say enough is enough — this limit is
    your own and you’re the expert at recognizing it.
    6. Continue to try to sense if the conflict is around an organizational
    issue or is a matter of interpersonal “chemistry”, that
    is, you both have such differing natures that you’ll probably
    need some outside intervention to work together. (Note that if
    this is the case, it will be a tremendous learning curve — but
    a precious one — for you to learn to work with such natures that
    are so different than your own. That’s one hallmark of diversity.)

    If Worse
    Comes to Worse

    Obviously, the course of action for a situation such
    as this depends to a great extent on the nature of the organization
    and the two people involved. If you’re a board chair or chief
    an executive who continues to feel the conflict in working with the other
    person, then consider:
    1. Approach the other person and ask for five minutes of their
    uninterrupted time. Explain your concern, what you see and
    hear that leads you to believe there are continued conflicts
    between both of you, what you would like to see or hear
    between both of you in the future, and why the continued conflict
    can be so destructive to the organization.
    2. If the other person says there’s no conflict that they are
    aware of (whether there really is or not), then assert to them
    that you would appreciate it if they changed certain behaviors
    when working with you and specifically describe what behaviors
    you’d like to see from them. They either will change their behaviors,
    in which case things should improve, or they won’t. In which case,
    you’ll need to escalate the issue to the organization, if appropriate,
    or seek additional assistance about how you plan to handle the
    the problem, for example, avoid it, confront it further, negotiate
    further, etc.
    3. If the problem persists, ask to have time with the Executive
    Committee to share your concerns. If this isn’t appropriate, consider
    approaching two to three board members one-on-one. (At this point,
    it’s critical to remember that any “badmouthing” or
    “conspiring” against the other person will only end
    up hurting the entire board and organization. Therefore, talk
    with a friend or take careful time to reflect on what you want
    to say and how to say it to the other board members.) Explain
    the situation in terms of the behaviors in the issue, not the
    personality or character of the other person. Explain what you’ve
    done so far to address the issue. Describe your perception of
    the results of your efforts with the other person — note that
    it’s your perception. Ask for specific advice to address the issue.
    At the end of the meeting, echo back to them what you hear them
    suggesting. Attempt to follow their advice. Commit to follow up
    with them about the results of your following their advice.
    4. If the problems persist, you might consider getting outside
    help. Note that this may be more constructive than posing the
    problem to the entire board where it may cause great confusion
    and unease with little or no clear course of action to resolve
    the issue.

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