Building a Better Executive Director

board development and revitalization roles and responsibilities the board/ceo partnership Aug 28, 2023
Building a Better Executive Director


How do you determine what makes a great Executive Director? The results would be fairly obvious, I suspect… But Google took a more methodical approach. How many of us stop to actually analyze those performance reviews, feedback surveys, and nominations for Executive Director? Google correlated phrases, words, praise and complaints. They found, for example, technical expertise was less important (indeed, dead last) than being accessible.


This was a study (Project Oxygen) of managers, but the results would apply to many not-for-profit Executive Directors. Indeed, it would be interesting to undertake a systematic study of Chief Officers to see if their results would be any different from Google.


Imagine the potential for strategic human resources management, including selection and development.


Here is the list of eight good behaviors (rank ordered!) as well as three common pitfalls of managers. Board Chairs – consider these in your performance reviews and coaching. Executive Directors – consider these in your development of your team.


1. Be a good coach. Provide specific, constructive feedback, balancing the negative and positive. Have regular, one-on-ones, presenting solutions to problems tailored to your employees’ strengths.

2. Empower your team and don’t micromanage. Balance giving freedom to your employees while still being available for advice. Make “stretch” assignments to help the team tackle big problems.

3. Express interest in team member’s success and personal well-being. Get to know your employees as people with lives outside work. Make new members of your team feel welcomed and help ease their transition.

4. Don’t be a sissy. Be product and results-oriented. Focus on what employees want the team to achieve and how they can help achieve it. Help the team prioritize work and use seniority to remove roadblocks.

5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team. Communication is two-way: you both listen and share information. Hold all-hands meetings and be straightforward about the messages and goals of the team. Help the team connect the dots. Encourage open dialogue and listen to the issues and concerns of your employees.

6. Help your employees with career development.

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7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team. Even in the midst of turmoil, keep the team focused on goals and strategy. Involve the team in setting and evolving the team’s vision and making progress toward it.

8. Have key technical skills so you can advise the team. Roll up your sleeves and conduct work side by side with the team when needed. Understand the specific challenges of the work.


And the common pitfalls?


Have trouble making a transition to the team. Sometimes fantastic individual contributors are promoted without the necessary skills to lead people. People hired from outside the organization don’t always understand the unique aspects of managing at your agency.


Lack of a consistent approach to performance management and career development. Don’t help employees understand how these work at your organization and doesn’t coach them on their options to develop end stretch. Not proactive. Waits for employees to come to them.


Spend too little time managing and communicating.


What are your main “pain points” dealing with CEO assessment and support?

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.




Help for the Whole Team

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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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