Thursday, April 23, 2015

Chopsticks and Fulcrums: The Board Chair/CEO Relationship

“The board chair-CEO relationship is like a pair of chopsticks,” writes Michael Naufal. “One is much more effective with the support of the other.”

Mary Hiland writing in the Journal for Nonprofit Management says that “board chairs and executive directors comprise the key leadership fulcrum of nonprofit organizations.”

So…here’s today’s $64,000 question: “How much time have these two key people in your ministry invested in enriching this critical relationship?” Have you read a book or article together, attended a governance workshop together, or consulted with other board chair/CEO dynamic duos?

My friend and mentor, George Duff, served 27 years as the president of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce. He adjusted to a different board chair every year: 27 in all! His wisdom saved me!  I noticed, for example, that one year my analytical board chair would circle all the typos in the board reports. The next year, my expressive board chair would show up unprepared (no advance reading). I quickly became a student of the four social styles and learned how to leverage the ample gifts and strengths of all my board chairs (each uniquely gifted by God).

One time I observed a boardroom discussion between the CEO and his board when the CEO reported that every time the members elected a new board chair—the CEO’s time crunch worsened. He estimated it required at least 10 percent of his time each year to brief a new board chair—and learn the new chair’s leadership style.

The point today: if ministry effectiveness really does hang on a healthy relationship between the board chair and the CEO (however you label it: chopsticks or fulcrums)—it demands a serious investment of time, prayer and focus. Resources are ample at ECFA, BoardSource, Amazon and Google. (Or check out my Board Bucket page.) Plus, read Rebekah Basinger's blog, Generous Matters. She pointed out the chopsticks and fulcrums references for me.

David McKenna has a Kingdom description for this important partnership. “The board-CEO relationship is the soul of the Christ-centered organization. It connects leaders to followers, communicates vision and mission to the body, and sets the tone for the organization.” (Read more in the ECFAPress book, Stewards of a Sacred Trust: CEO Selection, Transition and Development for Boards of Christ-centered Organizations, by David L. McKenna. By the way, McKenna was the first blogger for this column from January to May 2011 and his blogs are packed with insights.)

QUESTION: How much time are your board chair and CEO investing in supporting each other’s unique but complementary roles—and communicating those roles to the board and the staff?

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