One of the fascinating aspects of my job is meeting hundreds of chairs of charities. The variety of people drawn to the role is huge. I can see that some would be a delight to work with, others, rather more of a challenge. Some bring extensive experience to the role; some have to learn fast but bring enthusiasm and willingness to learn. And of course, fellow CEOs tell me their stories about their chairs – good and bad, and the various ways in which they make a success of working with them.
Here are my top 5 tips and key resources to help you and your Chair:
Good beginnings matter
Recruiting the chair will typically be led by the board. But if you can, do influence the process. Pay attention to the formal aspects- the role description; the recruitment process; selection criteria; being honest about the challenges and the time needed; providing a thorough induction. But the soft qualities matter too. Attitude and values are as important as hard skills. AoC’s A Chair’s Compass – is a handy induction guide to the Chair’s role.
Invest in getting to know each other
Time spent developing the relationship pays dividends. It’s especially important when either of you are new in post. Get to know each other as people. What motivates you, what irks you? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What do you hold in common, where do you have differences? What might this mean for how you work together and how you might rub each other up the wrong way? Remember the relationship is a dynamic one. Don’t assume it will stay the same. Pay special attention at times of change. Reputational or funding challenges, or changes on the board or senior management team can knock the relationship off-kilter. How you get to know each other is up to you – some choose personality questionnaires, others dine together, or choose to walk together.
Agree what good looks like
Take time to discuss how you both think the relationship should work. How do you want to allocate responsibilities? What are your preferred ways of staying in touch and how often? How do you both protect your downtime? How often would you and your chair find it useful to have one to ones and appraisals?
Both chairs and CEOs have told us they find AoC’s A Question of Balance – a guide to the Chair- Chief Executive relationship a good way to have this conversation. It has a section on key things to have in place at different stages in the relationship. It also has a section on exploring issues that are less clear cut, where you may have legitimate differences of view or different preferences. The discussion will help you surface and negotiate these.
Cultivate board relationships that are broad and deep
It helps to have good relationships with other board members. A vice-chair or other trustee can be invaluable if chair and CEO are not seeing eye to eye, they can bring a different perspective, be a sounding board or listening ear.
Put support in place for your Chair
Chairs, like CEOs need support, encouragement, and development. Some of it will come from you, but not all. Help your chair connect with others who can provide support. Signpost them to resources written for chairs. Explore with your chair what they would find helpful.
How Association of Chairs can help you and your Chair
We have two guides specifically on the Chair- CEO relationship: A Question of Balance – a guide to the Chair- Chief Executive relationship and Appraising your CEO. With ACEVO we also regularly run our Dynamic Duo workshop. We invite you to attend with your Chair to explore your relationship and how to strengthen it.
The nine point framework is at one level simple and assuring, but it identifies things we are often blind to, it is very wiseFeedback from Dynamic Duo attendee
Every CEO and Chair should go through the nine-dimensions self assessmentFeedback from Dynamic Duo attendee
Up until June 2020 we have our Beacon programme specifically for those chairing organisations with income under £1m, which thanks to funding from the National Lottery Community Fund is free to join.
If you want your chair to be a help not a hindrance, ask yourself, what can you do to help them?