In the video interview featured in last week’s post at this blog, Jeff Finkle and Craig Richard astutely observe that one of the key building blocks of a solid board-CEO partnership is the CEO’s building a close, productive working relationship with her board chair. Jeff and Craig briefly discuss two keys to a solid board chair-CEO partnership that I’d like to expand on in this follow-up post: getting to know the board chair really well; and providing the board chair with what I call “non-monetary compensation.”
Board-savvy CEOs who excel at partnering with their board chair always, in my experience, make a concerted effort to get to get to know their preeminent partner in-depth as quickly as they can, often starting with the resources that their new chair brings to her leadership role, including skills, expertise, knowledge, external connections, and reputation, to name some of the more important attributes. This is especially important in enlisting the board chair to provide leadership beyond merely chairing board meetings, since it would obviously be counter-productive to call on the board chair for leadership he isn’t capable of providing. For example, a few years ago I worked with a board chair who was a virtuoso at behind-the-scenes negotiation but terribly ineffectual at the podium – with his uninspiring monotone delivery and tendency to stumble over words. His board-savvy CEO partner knew enough to call on him as a partner in negotiating with key stakeholders like the county executive, but to avoid having him make presentations on behalf of the EDO in key forums like the monthly chamber of commerce luncheon.
The most basic, but nonetheless extremely important, form of non-monetary compensation a board-savvy CEO can offer her new chair is to go out of her way to ensure that her chair succeeds in his formal governing role. For example, one CEO I know without fail spends at least an hour on the phone with his board chair before every meeting of the board’s governance committee, which the chair heads, going over the agenda point by point, answering any questions the chair might have, thereby making sure the chair is well prepared to lead the committee’s deliberations.
Really board-savvy CEOs also make an effort to understand their new chair’s professional aspirations and special interests since one important way to strengthen the working relationship with the chair is to help her have a richer, more rewarding, ego satisfying experience that goes beyond the formal board chair role – a powerful form of non-monetary compensation, in my experience. For example, a CEO I worked with not long ago, learning that his board chair was passionately interested in educational issues – especially at the postsecondary level – was able to engineer his chair’s appointment to a business advisory committee the local community college was putting together. And another CEO I know, aware that his chair hoped that her leadership role would help her become more comfortable and skilled at public speaking, which she considered her most limiting professional weakness, made a point of securing speaking opportunities for the chair and giving her the moral and technical support she needed to hone her speaking skills.