The board chair and chief executive relationship – a team approach

While one of the board chair’s primary responsibilities is to manage the relationship between the board and the chief executive, it doesn’t mean that this responsibility has to be carried-out alone. In fact, there are tremendous benefits to engaging current and future board leadership in this relationship.

• Keep it professional – You may have a great relationship with the chief executive and even be friends, but you need to remember that there is an employer and employee relationship here and that you have a responsibility to be both appropriate and objective as a representative of the board. Bringing other board members into the evaluation process, the compensation decision, and other matters will help to assure the board that you are fair and objective in your dealings with the chief executive.

• Help manage difficult relationships – Not all board chairs and chief executives “click.” While it is very important to have mutual respect for each other, there is no requirement that you have to be good friends. If you do sense that there may be some friction in your relationship, consider bringing the vice chair or other officers into your discussions and meetings. They may be able to help you navigate the relationship and/or serve as a sounding board for what you are experiencing. It is best not to be trying to manage difficult relationships alone.

• Develop future leadership – Sometimes the position of vice chair comes with few duties and little responsibility; then one day the vice chair is suddenly thrust into the role of being the chair. No matter who on your board is most likely to be the next board chair (whether or not that is the vice chair) involve that person now in helping to manage your relationship with the chief executive. You’ll be helping to set the stage for a productive, long-term relationship at the same time as you work together to put some best practices in place.

• Legal protection – Once again, you and the chief executive are in an employer and employee relationship. Your employment attorney will tell you not to have sensitive discussions alone. You may think you and the chief executive have a great relationship, but don’t find yourself in the situation where it is his or her word against yours. With that said, don’t bring other board members into your conversations solely as a “defense strategy.” Bring them as part of the team and as a standard best practice.

• The team will be stronger than you can be as an individual – Rather than go it alone, consider that you have a management team among your board officers that is there to help you. Take advantage of their skills and experiences.

Don’t just call on members of your team when you sense trouble. Copy them on e-mail exchanges with the chief executive and create an expectation that you will call on other members of the board to join in your conversations and offer advice. As I see it, the more you engage them in the work of the board chair, the more ready they’ll be to step-in and take over for you some day!

For additional information, please contact Jeff Wahlstrom at (207) 992-4407 or send him an e-mail message at [email protected]