The board chair-CEO relationship is like a pair of chopsticks.

“The board chair-CEO relationship is like a pair of chopsticks. One is much more effective with the support of the other.”

Sounds like something from the mind of Forrest Gump. In fact, this bit of wisdom comes from a real-life board chair of an actual charity via a survey sponsored by the Canadian consulting firm, Odgers Berndtson. The chopsticks comment, plus a lot of other interesting insights about the board chair-CEO relationship, show up in a booklet titled Ten Commitments for a Better Partnership. It is available for download from the company website.

Check out the highlights that follow. Then let me know if you agree there’s good stuff here.

  • Commitment 1: Keep everyone focused on the organization’s mission. The chair and CEO must work together to stave off mission drift.
  • Commitment 2: Clearly define and respect each other’s roles. It helps to define who is responsible for what, and what to do if an issue appears to fall under the mandate of both the chair and the CEO.
  • Commitment 3: Avoid territorial behavior. Not everything is easily definable as either a board or staff responsibility. When this occurs, it’s important that the chair and CEO speak candidly and openly about the situation.
  • Commitment 4: Add ‘innovative’ value. Success of the board chair-CEO leadership rest on the  relationship’s impact and not the relationship’s strength.
  • Commitment 5: Help to make the board stronger. The board chair and CEO should select resources in response to the board’s learning needs.
  • Commitment 6: Develop a positive dynamic between staff and the board. Dysfunction or lack of respect between the staff and board can seriously impair an organization’s productivity and reputation in the community.
  • Commitment  7: Make communication a priority. Good governance demands transparency and detests secrets. Openness starts with the board chair and CEO.
  • Commitment 8: Maintain a united front. The partnership’s success depends upon the degree to which the board chair and the CEO are consistent and united on important issues.
  • Commitment 9: Protect and support one another. The need for support and protection is particularly important during and after the transition to a new chair or CEO.
  • Commitment 10: Keep passions and emotions in check. For many partners, this means balancing their own beliefs against a wide variation of expectations, needs, and political interests – and not getting carried away by their ambitions and ego.

Based on your observations of or experience as part of a board chair-CEO duo, what commitments would you add to the list?

What's your take on this topic?

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