Lost in Translation: Finding a Shared Understanding, Commitment and Passion for Excellence

This is a critical element for a Chair and Chief Executive

Ten questions you can ask as you put the spotlight on this crucial relationship.

In the absence of an effective Chair/Chief Executive partnership, the meeting of minds proves difficult if not impossible. Knowing that their partnership is a cornerstone of organisational success, many Chair/Chief Executives are actively engaged in seeking better ways to work together.

Speaking to an experienced Chief Executive throws light on this. She says ‘I cannot stress enough the importance of a good working relationship with the Chair. I would have found it difficult to lead the organisation without the constant support and encouragement of a series of dedicated individuals who worked with me in the Chair role. They shared my passion for the mission, gave me the benefit of their expertise, worked with me to improve the organisation and above all helped me to build a solid connection with the trustee board. I couldn’t have done my job – or I couldn’t have done it half as well – without them’.

She is indeed lucky and wise. Lucky to have had the experience of being supported by good Chairs. Wise to recognise and acknowledge the invaluable support a Chair can bring. In my experience the connection between the Chief Executive and Chair is an important part of what makes voluntary and community sector organisations strong, resilient and effective. When the board and the Chair challenge the Chief Executive constructively and in a supportive manner, it can force him to engage with governance in a way that enriches his work and makes him a more responsible executive. The dialogue becomes the point of contact between the how, the what and the why of the organisation. The effect of the work together is synergy, a combination that is far stronger than the component parts.

Monitoring and evaluating the governance practices and relationships can be resourceful as both partners with support of the board and the Senior Management Team (if there is one in play) begin or continue the process of building a Chief Executive/Chair /board relationship that really serves the organisation.

It may be helpful if the Chief Executive can reflect on the following questions

1. How satisfied are you that the Chair understands her responsibility for leading the board effectively?

2. How satisfied are you that the Chair actively leads the evolution of the board in relation to its composition, competencies, relationships to meet current and future challenges.

3. How satisfied are you that you have a good working relationship with board as a whole?

4. As Chief Executive what can you do to work with the Chair to enhance the governance of the organisation?

5. Does the board effectively liaise with you in your role as Chief Executive and with the Directors on matters relating to strategy, governance and executive performance?

The Chair may find it helpful to reflect on the following questions:

6. Does the board undertake regular reviews of the Chief Executive’s performance and development?

7. As Chair if you undertake the review of the Chief Executive’s performance, do you report the outcome of the performance review to the board? How supportive is the board in bringing out the best in the Chief Executive?

8. How satisfied are you that you ensure that the board adopts a relevant and appropriate agenda for consideration at Board meetings that engenders the engagement of the Chief Executive, the Executive Team and board members?

9. How satisfied are you that you effectively manage discussion of agenda items allowing sufficient time for complex issues and for robust dialogue. Do you encourage active participation and engagement in meetings by all board members?

10. Finally, as facilitator, how satisfied are you that you ensure there is a shared sense of the decisions that have been made? Do you clarify and confirm decisions made and actions to be taken at the end of discussions?

Building a strong and vibrant relationship between the Chair and the Chief Executive is a continuous journey and takes a high level of commitment and investment, but like any journey that is worth making, it is more than worth its value in gold.


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