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The Relationship between the Executive Director and Board Chair Affects Organizational Success

Posted Dec 02, 2015 04:20 PM
In any nonprofit organization, no relationship is more crucial than the one between the executive director/CEO and the board chairperson. However, it takes time and commitment to create a relationship that works. An investment in an expert facilitator who can help set the groundwork for an effective working relationship will pay dividends for everyone at the organization. Read what Sherry Jennings (Sound Governance) has to say about this topic.

By Sherry Jennings, Principal, Sound Governance

Learn more about Sherry Jennings

In any organization, no relationship is more crucial than the one between the executive director or CEO and the board chairperson.

The relationship between these two key people can create organizational harmony and alignment – or wreak havoc. The relationship between the executive and the board chair is unique. Theirs is an interdependent relationship of equals at the top. It may seem obvious, but the executive and chairperson must have good chemistry. They need to both communicate and connect well.

Two heads together at the top are in the best position to influence culture and set the tone for the entire organization. When the executive-chairperson relationship is strong, the organization benefits from twice the talent influencing change and inspiring others.

In the chairperson, the board has a leader who is focused on governance and removed from day-to-day operations and organizational politics. With a chairperson who keeps the board on the governance track and out of “administrivia”, the board can be objective and make wise fiduciary decisions.

In a good executive-chairperson relationship, the executive can focus on leading and motivating staff instead of managing the board. The executive has an ally in the chairperson who understands the board’s role in supporting the executive without micromanaging or meddling.

Unfortunately, many executives and chairpersons are engaged in trying to learn how to create the relationship while actively working in their roles. Many chairpersons come into the position with only a general understanding of the board’s role. Fewer are familiar with what the role of the chairperson entails. Many executives are unclear on the board’s role. Many spend hours of valuable time trying to figure out how to “manage” the board or create work for the board. This is time and energy focused on the wrong things. When the relationship between the chairperson and the executives is unclear, a cycle of non-productive behaviors ensues and it can become dysfunctional.

It takes time and commitment to create a relationship that works. All relationships require some investment. Some executives and chairpersons are more willing than others to commit to building a healthy, functional relationship. Some type of “getting to know you” meeting often marks the start of a new executive-chairperson relationship, but few follow a structured process that clarifies their roles or teaches them how to work together productively.

Significant value exists in committing to a process of encouraging dialogue that discusses accountability and boundaries for the executive and chairperson’s roles in the organization. Along with clarification, each needs to explore expectations of communication with one another and principles to maintaining a good working relationship. Typically, this takes more than one session and benefits from expert facilitation. Investment in this process sets the groundwork for an effective working relationship and pays dividends in fostering both a strong and effective organizational culture. Great organizations are made from great relationships.

If you are interested in building a stronger executive and board chair role register for:
Seattle, WA | Pacific Tower - 8th floor Panoramic Center
Monday, June 4, 2018 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.