When I walked into a boardroom recently, I found the board chair – a highly influential attorney – fuming. When I asked what was wrong, he handed me a clipping from the community affairs section of the local paper, saying “read this and you’ll see.” The piece was a glowing review of the district’s new partnership with the local economic development commission, aimed at showcasing the district’s educational performance in the commission’s updated marketing materials, as one of the major incentives for businesses to locate in the community. I couldn’t see what the problem was until I got near the end of the piece, when I read a long quote from the superintendent talking about the district’s commitment to business development in the region and how he had personally devoted lots of time to launching the marketing partnership. You can guess whose name wasn’t mentioned in the piece: the board chair’s, of course.
The chair went on to tell me how much time he’d spent building a relationship with the chair of the commission’s board, and how many meetings with the commission’s president & CEO he’d attended with the superintendent as they’d worked out the details of the partnership. “Adding insult to injury,” the chair told me, the superintendent hadn’t even invited him to sit in on the meeting he’d hosted in his office with the reporter who’d written the piece. This really un-board-savvy superintendent had missed a great opportunity to provide his board chair with one of the most important forms of what I think of as nonmonetary compensation – public recognition. Worse, not only had this superintendent failed to capitalize on an opportunity to further cement the working relationship with his chair, he’d managed to damage it severely.
Astute superintendents are always on the alert for opportunities to “pay” their board chairs as a way to strengthen this extremely important partnership. For example, in addition to public recognition, the “paycheck” can include : helping their chair succeed in his role as leader of the board; getting the chair involved in an area she’s really interested in, such as school-business relations; and helping the chair sharpen certain leadership skills, such as public speaking. Of course, the only sure way to come up with the right “paychecks” is to get to know your board chair really well as early in her tenure as possible.
Providing your board chair with regular non-monetary paychecks is well worth the effort because of the stakes involved in this critical working relationship. Perhaps most important, your chair can help you achieve your chief executive leadership goals by serving a spear carrier in securing board support for your highest priority CEO initiatives. And your chair can also help you deal with critics on the board and in the wider community, standing by your side rather than passively sitting on the sidelines while you take all the heat.