Companies and organizations go through various phases and stages in the business cycle. Whether an organization is a startup or a mature, transitioning, stable or progressing entity, the relationship between the executive director and the board chair is one of the most important relationships of all in making it a success.
The relationship between the executive director and the board chair is an interdependent one that requires regular communication and collaboration. These individuals must have good chemistry so that they can connect and communicate well with each other.
Besides the obvious need to work together, the relationship between the executive director and the board chair sets an important precedent for other relationships. Their relationship has a collateral effect on the other board directors, managers and staff. These two individuals represent a small, but powerful, leadership team. Either they set the stage for respect and cooperation or they set the stage for tension and dissonance among the ranks.
Professionalism, mutual trust and respect are contagious. When those qualities exist between an executive director and a board chair, they will be evident to everyone around them. These qualities set the tone for lower-level relationships and inspire collaborative work at every level.
It takes time, effort and commitment to make the relationship strong and productive. When both parties are committed to their relationship, and to the company or organization’s mission, they can accomplish mighty things together.
The Importance of Staying in Your Own Lane
For the board chair and the executive director to maintain a strong professional relationship, each of them must be clear on their duties and responsibilities.
Board chairpersons should be focused on governance. In that role, the chair has responsibilities to the executive director and to the board.
Board chairs need to remove themselves from the day-to-day operations and organizational politics and stay in their own lane. The board chair should be focused on ensuring that the work that the executive director and staff do is continually in keeping with the organization’s mission, direction and priorities. Part of this duty requires providing guidance and wise counsel to the executive director. When board chairs have a good working relationship with the executive director, they will feel confident and prepared to give presentations on the status of the organization to the board, interested parties and the media.
The board chair has much influence over how the board uses its time. By keeping duties and responsibilities clear, it makes it easier for the board and the board chair to be objective and to make wise fiduciary decisions.
By contrast, the executive director should be focused on managing the daily operations, leading the organization and motivating staff. Executive directors who have a good working relationship with their board chairs feel that they have an ally in him or her.
While smaller organizations with little or no staff may rely more heavily on their board directors as volunteers, it’s important that board directors refrain from meddling in the duties of the executive director or trying to micromanage them as they carry out their responsibilities. Executive directors have a reciprocal responsibility to support the board chair in delivering the mission. In addition, executive directors play an important role in keeping the board chair informed on issues such as risk management and updates on operations.
From a broader perspective, executive directors support governance by giving the chair the necessary data and information in order to show accountability and transparency.
The relationship between the board chair and the executive director is a work in progress. When it works well, the relationship should grow and strengthen through shared challenges and experiences. Mutual trust, respect and a common understanding of the organization’s goals are key to making this relationship successful.
Executive directors and board chairs work on board meeting agendas together and executive directors are usually instrumental in shaping board discussions.
The Value in Sharing
An article in the Journal of Nonprofit Management called “The Board Chair-Executive Director Relationship: Dynamics that Create Value for Nonprofit Organizations” talks about the various ways that it’s important for executive directors and board chairs to share information with each other.
Fact-sharing is a key form of one-way communication. Executive directors and board chairs have different kinds of information to exchange. On both ends, fact-sharing is a good way to start building trust and keep the relationship strong.
As there are many uncertainties in running any company or organization, there are continual opportunities for the duo to participate in brainstorming, problem-solving, out-of-the-box thinking and exploring those all-important “what-ifs.”
Both positions come with lots of responsibility. Feelings can run high. Each of them plays a role in emotionally supporting each other. Board chairs and executive directors can strengthen their relationships by regularly offering words of support, reassurance and care.
Give-and-take exchanges are important all the time, but especially in times of change and transition. Leaders can share information that helps them make concessions, adapt to changes, address new challenges and adjust to changing circumstances.
Modern Digital Tools Encourage Strong Board Chair and Executive Director Relationships
While board chairs and executive directors need to support each other in so many important ways, both need the support of the value that only modern governance practices can offer them. A board management software program by BoardEffect provides a secure platform where the leaders can communicate and collaborate on a regular basis. The platform makes it possible for them to connect while they’re on the go using electronic mobile devices.
Board chairs and executive directors must be aware of board cycles, meeting cycles and the annual cycle. BoardEffect’s digital tools provide the modern solution for boards and executives as they navigate these interdependent cycles.
The platform allows them to invite additional people into their discussions as needed. BoardEffect has a feature for granular permissions that opens up access to files for those who have authorization. BoardEffect delivers the best data and insights to leaders while offering state-of-the-art cybersecurity measures to protect against cybercrime. With the support of BoardEffect, boards and executives can reap the benefits of mutually effective relationships.