The Value of a Successful Board Chair/CEO Partnership
by Marnie Taylor, President and CEO
If you’re a CEO or executive director, the beginning of a new fiscal year is full of excitement with a busy schedule and a new plan. However, for many executives, this also means working with a brand new board chair. Most of the time, an executive walks into the relationship with their board chair knowing them well and anticipating a smooth transition. However, it is also a time when the executive and board chair have to begin an important new partnership that is equal parts leadership and coaching.
A successful leadership transition at the board level begins when a chair is actually becoming a “chair-elect.” This is the ideal time for both the chair and the executive to begin grooming the new chair for the leadership position. It’s also a way to create a leadership structure that assures that the new board chair knows their roles and responsibilities and the lay of the land of not just the board but of the organization as a whole.
As we are coming up on July 1, a transition point for many nonprofits entering a new fiscal year, we wanted to give a few pointers to new board chairs and executives on ensuring the transition goes well and that the year is a success.
It’s always a good idea for the incoming board chair and the executive to get together for a casual but planned lunch, breakfast or meeting to discuss the transition, plans for the next year, go over a budget and talk about the upcoming board meeting schedule. This is also an ideal time for the board chair to ask questions of the executive and learn about organizational needs for their leadership. These meetings can also serve to let each person know their respective leadership styles – are they formal or casual? Are they hands-on or laissez-faire? Do they prefer phone calls? Emails? In-person conversations?
Schedule Regular Meetings and Keep Them
We suggest that a board chair and executive along with the incoming chair elect meet on a regular basis – if not in person at least by phone call. Monthly or twice-monthly meetings are best and should be scheduled at a time that doesn’t book-end a board or committee meeting if possible. This is a standing meeting where executives can give updates, board chairs can ask questions and the team can strategize and create to-do lists. It’s also an ideal time to discuss issues that need to be addressed with the board of directors. This is not necessarily a “supervision of the CEO” meeting. Instead, it should serve as a partnered check-in to assure everyone is up-to-date.
Collaborate in Decision-Making
Board chairs should make themselves available to collaborate in decision-making for the organization, particularly on strategic discussions about mission and programs, fundraising, governance and policies or procedures. Again, this isn’t a time to “over-manage,” but it is a way for the executive and board chair to work together on objectives that move the organization forward or to alleviate a problem.
Be Open, Honest and Direct
Good relationships are fostered on a foundation of honesty and directness. By scheduling and keeping regular check-in meetings, the partnership is most effective in communication. Executives should be open to feedback and be honest about what is happening day-to-day with an organization. Board chairs should keep channels open and listen, assisting executives in decision-making and goal-setting. At no time should the communication wane or cease. Additionally, both board chair and chair-elect should be open to suggestions and feedback from the executive about board performance or potential issues the executive may be noticing. Communication is key, and feedback loops are critical.
Of course, these are merely a few of the suggestions to help foster and maintain strong leadership relations among board chairs, chairs elect and executives. To learn more about this important subject, join me for our Partnership training in Oklahoma City with Miki Farris or Tulsa with Dr. Debbi Guilfoyle. It is the perfect way for executives and board chairs to come together and learn about how to maximize your partnership and relationship over the next year.