Are You Feeling the Love? Does Your CEO Really Want You?

board development and revitalization May 13, 2024
Are You Feeling the Love? Does Your CEO Really Want You?


Do CEOs really want high-performing boards? Hmmm… Some (most?) obviously do. But we are seeing and hearing that the CEO can be a roadblock to board development. Some even discourage their members from taking our courses or accessing free resources. Why? Lack of control? Insecurity? Confusion about the role of the board as employer?

Here is what board members are telling us.


Not-for-profit Chief Executive Officers and Executive Directors  generally want high-performing boards that provide governance, leadership and community oversight. However, some executive directors may resist having a strong board for a few key reasons:


1. Loss of autonomy and control. This is what we hear most. A high-performing board that actively exercises its governance role can limit the executive director's autonomy and decision-making power over the organization. Some executive directors prefer minimal board involvement to maintain control. Some are reluctant to lose control of the priorities and approaches. However, the days of “rubber-stamping” are as gone as the rubber stamp itself.


2. Avoidance of accountability. A strong board holds the executive director accountable for performance and results. Executive directors who underperform or lack transparency may resist robust board oversight to avoid scrutiny. This would be a natural conclusion and is certainly true in some cases but it is not common in my experience.

People aren’t underperforming and attempting to avoid scrutiny so much as they don’t know what scrutiny looks like and perceive it as a trust issue. The best board members also ask questions; questions raise other questions. But it is the board’s right, and indeed obligation, to know about those matters within its governance purview.


3. Resistance to change. High-functioning boards often drive strategic changes and new initiatives. Executive directors comfortable with the status quo may resist an engaged board pushing for transformative changes. Any board consists of individuals who bring diverse perspectives, skill sets, experience and community connections. They set direction on behalf of the community, often the funder. And even one new board member means it is a new board.

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4. Power dynamics. The board technically has authority over the executive director, creating an inherent power imbalance. Some executive directors dislike this dynamic and prefer a more deferential board relationship. However, most likely you are not an advisory committee, you are a governance board, the employer and occasionally need to act as such. Some refer to the relationship as “co-pilots” and each must be comfortable with their roles and lanes, but ultimately there is still a power imbalance.


5. Differing priorities. Boards focused on specific priorities may clash with executive directors having different operational goals and incentives. This challenge occurs most often, particularly with regard to the different “lanes” – management/operations and governance/policy. Of course there are also a lot of grey areas too. Cooperation and collaboration are critical but occasionally there needs to be a line drawn (and it falls to the chair to do this, something chairs are often loath to do).


So while high-performing boards benefit the organization, some executive directors may resist engaged governance out of a desire to maintain autonomy, avoid accountability, resist change, preserve power dynamics, or due to misaligned priorities.


How to overcome these? Trust of course is a big issue. Open communication especially between the CEO and Chair. And board development. Take the courses. Attend the webinars. But do it together. And discuss your takeaways for areas of commonality and difference.


What are your main “pain points” dealing with board development?

What advice would be most helpful to you?
And we always assume that you are asking for a friend!


Get in touch. We’ll address your questions and concerns in an upcoming blog post.




One More Step

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The Board Leader Academy:

A step-by-step guide to higher performance and impact.

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P.S. May I ask a tiny favour? Would you mind sharing this blog with one person? I would love it. You can post the links in your Facebook Groups, LinkedIn or even send an email.

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