The best board chair (chair) and chief executive relationships are founded on mutual trust and respect. But at Realize, we know that for some chief executives, this relationship can be a deadweight and feel like just another item on their pile of things to ‘manage’ instead of a real lift both professionally and personally. For boards, we know that this relationship can either be one of frustration for the chair or a true partnership capable of drawing out the high impact and value of the board’s work.
Board Chair and Chief Executive: Your Organization’s Most Critical Relationship
The relationship between the chair and chief executive is one of the most critical relationships within and between the board and the organization. The quality and effectiveness of their relationship:
- Sets the governance tone.
- Is a key lever for increasing the board’s impact and the value the organization can derive from the board.
- Strengthens the abilities and potential of the board and organization to achieve the organization’s purposes and goals.
- Allows the board and staff to perform their roles.
- Creates a mentoring opportunity to increase the chair and the chief executive’s performance.
Where do things go wrong?
Many factors can impact the quality of the chair/chief executive relationship. Whether it’s a lack of understanding one’s own and/or each other’s roles; differing working, partnership, and communication styles; misalignment on the organization’s purpose and strategies; or not appreciating the perspectives and experiences of the other party, it doesn’t take much for the relationship to go sideways.
4 Questions to Elevate Your Board Chair and CEO Relationship
Given all the ways it can go wrong, creating and maintaining a strong chair/chief executive relationship requires attention, navigation, and investment from both sides. Prioritizing this relationship is especially important when the organizational context is changing or when the individuals filling the positions of the board, chair, and chief executive change.
To set off on the right foot, the chair and chief executive should have a conversation early in their relationship to gain clarity and alignment on:
- What should our communication norms be (e.g., frequency, mode, topics, etc.)?
- What does your leadership style look like?
- How can we support each other best?
- What type of partnership are we looking to have?
As the relationship progresses both parties should continuously check in on:
- Do we feel safe to bring the good, bad, and ugly to each other?
- In our roles, are we providing the best value we can to the other?
- Do we still have the right level and quality of interactions?
- Are we still aligned on the organization’s priorities and how the chief executive and the board will partner to meet them?
- Has the chair provided the right quality and frequency of mentorship and feedback to the chief executive?
Chief executives and board chairs having a strong and positive relationship is just as important as each party conducting their responsibilities. The investment and attention the chair and chief executive pay to the relationship will be reflected in quality of board decisions and the value that the organization can draw from the board.
If you have questions about how to strengthen your chief executive and board chair relationship or governance in general, feel free to reach out to Jenn Fong, Realize Strategies Consultant and governance expert. Taking a people- and purpose-driven approach, her expertise includes board and director evaluations, governance restructuring, and governance policy development among others. Jenn also teaches Governance Essentials Lab at RealizeU, a 2-hour intensive live workshop which covers how boards should provide strategic benefit to organizations, the duties and legal obligations of Board directors, and more.