Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Board Chairs Sound Off on CEO Issues

“What is the most challenging issue you face when working with your CEO?” 

According to board chairs—they don’t meet often enough with their organization’s CEO. That and other responses from board chairs are noted in the ECFA 3rd Annual Nonprofit Governance Survey. It’s available as a download to ECFA-accredited organizations and subscribers. (Click here.)  

The responses were categorized into five major areas:
• 25.4%: Insufficient Time for Board Chair/CEO Mtgs. (and Distance)
• 20.8%: CEO Leadership Issues, Management Styles, & Organizational Health
• 17.7%: Vision/Strategy, Priorities & Measurement
• 16.2%: Board Functions & Board Roles
• 10.0%: Communication & Timely Information/Reports

Another 10% of the board chairs reported that they had no challenging CEO issues at this time. Here’s a sample from pages 24-29 in the survey report:

ISSUE: Insufficient Time for Board Chair/CEO Meetings (and Distance)

  • “Distance, time and differing personality types. Only our love in Christ makes it possible.”
  • "Taking the time to meet with the CEO one-on-one on a regular basis.”
  • “Keeping current on status of ministry when we meet only a few times per year.”
  • “Finding time to support him.”
  • “We really work well together.  Maybe the biggest issue is me making more time to spend with the CEO.”

ISSUE: CEO Leadership Issues, Management Styles, & Organizational Health

  • “The CEO likes to micro-manage issues and finds it difficult to accept that other board members are competent to handle issues without her constant input.”
  • “The CEO is a visionary so sometimes it is difficult to make concrete plans.”
  • “Encouraging more aggressiveness.”
  • “Because of personality differences, we sometimes view things differently. However, it is never a show stopper.”
  • “Personality style: I am direct; he prefers indirect, especially with criticism.”
  • “CEO, to lead well, must be positive. The challenge is that ‘being positive’ can mask reality when reality must be faced (or truly known). We tend toward ‘overly positive’ and need to push hard to get to understanding reality sometimes.”

Note this insight from Boards That Lead:
“Most chief executives are constitutionally optimistic, and since by definition their role is to surmount challenges, the tenor they bring into the boardroom is likely to be relentlessly upbeat. Taking executive overassurance into account will aid directors in detecting nascent troubles ahead, but it is only one piece of a very complicated puzzle.”
(See Chapter 8, “Spotting, Catching, or Exiting a Falling CEO” in Boards That Lead: When to Take Charge, When to Partner, and When to Stay Out of the Way, by Ram Charan, Dennis Carey and Michael Useem.)

ISSUE: Vision/Strategy, Priorities and Measurements

  • “Keeping the CEO focused on priority issues.”
  • “Trying to determine pitfalls.  Focus is usually on what is more important at the time.”
  • “Getting her to focus on CEO tasks to keep her from dipping into the daily operations.”
  • “I believe all goals should be measurable and I have some trouble with getting that accomplished. However we have just started the idea of every program should have measurable goals, or the program will not be approved until those goals have been clearly defined with strategies for evaluating their success.”
  • “Focus on what's important vs. what's urgent; delegating, communication and follow through.”
  • “Keeping him from taking on too many new ministries/projects before completing the current ones.”

ISSUE: Board Functions and Board Roles

  • “I am very blessed to have a great personal relationship with the CEO.  It is never ‘enjoyable’ to deliver tough feedback, but know it must be done.  Fortunately, he is very receptive and allows me the freedom to speak what we, as a board, see as important feedback.”
  • “Performance evaluation.”
  • “Constructive criticism and correction.”
  • “Encouraging underperforming board members to improve.”

ISSUE: Communication and Timely Information/Reports

  • “Getting written reports in a timely manner.”
  • “Communication: to understand the issues at the same level as the CEO so I can make informed and intelligent recommendations.”
  • “The CEO does not want to communicate with board members because so many disagree with him leaving me in between in major disagreements.”

QUESTION: What is the most challenging issue you face when working with your CEO--and have you talked with him or her about this issue?

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