How would you describe your relationship with your board? Would you say that is harmonious? Or would you say that it is contentious? If you and your board are at odds with each other, then it is likely that you are not in alignment.
I have found in working with myriad boards and CEOs that oftentimes the confrontation is caused by confusion. There is discord between the CEO and the board because they are not in alignment.
The good news is that—as long as there is no executive malfeasance— a skilled facilitator can usually restore CEO-board relations by clearing up the confusion. However, a mediator may be required if the standoff is deep-seated.
If you are your board are not in alignment, here are the three areas where there may be confusion in the CEO-board relationship.
Oftentimes there can be confusion about the roles that the chief executive and the board should serve. Because the people who serve on boards often lead their own organizations, they are used to directing people. It can be hard for CEOs who are board members to limit their role to what is proper for a board member.
Board members should not get involved in the operations of the organization. They should hold the CEO accountable for results, but not for methods. Once the board selects the CEO, they must free up the CEO to lead the team. After all, the board hired the CEO to do the job. The board can provide advice and counsel, but they must defer to the CEO in terms of how to run the organization.
Much confusion can be cleared up when board members recognize the proper role they should serve and not cross the line into the CEO’s responsibilities. Unfortunately, that takes much personal discipline. Often it can be helpful for boards to have a skilled board relations facilitator provide guidelines for appropriate CEO-board relations.
Another area where there can be confusion is expectations. If board members bring certain expectations to the CEO-board relationship that the CEO does not share, that can cause confusion.
Much of the issue of expectations can be established in the recruitment and onboarding phase. As board members are being considered, the board and the CEO can share what the expectations are for new board members. However, if these issues are not discussed before someone joins the board, that can cause great problems for the duration of their board service.
It is imperative that these expectations be articulated and agreed to—by the board and the CEO—before they recruit new board members. It is important to have the house in order before others are brought into the fold. Again, when confusion characterizes CEO-board relations, it’s best to bring in an impartial board-relations facilitator to guide this process.
Confusion in the CEO-board relationship can also result from different perspectives. If CEOs and board members do not approach the relationship in the same way, then there will likely be problems.
Both the CEO and the board should have the same outlook. They should all perceive the CEO-board relationship as complementary. A CEO should look at the board not as a group of bosses, but as a group of advisors. And the board must not take a posture of suspicion toward the CEO, but a posture of trust.
When CEOs are willing to solicit and take counsel from board members—instead of resenting the oversight authority of the board—then the organization can flourish. And when the board is willing to nurture and develop the CEO—instead of looking at the chief executive with mistrust—then the organization will likely prosper.
Both CEOs and board members are humans. In the capacity that they serve the organization, it is important that they be self-aware. When they come to the CEO-board relationship aware of their own roles, expectations, and perspectives, they can better deal with each other in that relationship for the good of the organization. Through open communication based on self-awareness, CEOs and board members can be in alignment and find their working relationship to be highly fulfilling.
Are you and your board in alignment?
Robert McFarland is the author of the bestsellers, Dear Boss: What Your Employees Wish You Knew and Dear Employee: What Your Boss Wishes You Knew. Robert is also President of Transformational Impact LLC, a leadership development consultancy helping companies make ideals actionable.