CEO or Executive Director? Does it Matter?

intentional practices oversight and accountability: measurement roles and responsibilities the board/ceo partnership Jun 22, 2021
CEO or Executive Director? Does it Matter?


You have a Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Yes, you really do.


You may not want to admit it – too corporate!


You may call the position something else – commonly Executive Director, General Manager, Managing Director, Chief Librarian, Superintendent…


But the person is still your CEO. Let’s face it. You are a governing board. You have one employee. That would be your “chief” officer. Your “chief” “executive” “officer”. Dare I say CEO?


Feel free to assign whatever title works best for your context, culture and sensibilities -- but you still have but one employee.


For simplicity sake, we’ll use CEO and Executive Director interchangeably here.


Why one employee?

You do not hire, supervise or evaluate other staff. That is the responsibility of your CEO. That person is accountable for organizational performance.


As soon as you start to direct management activities, that is to say, micro-managing, you are confusing who is responsible for what, and who is accountable. Focus on the ends, not the means. Focus on results.



If you are focusing on management, who is focusing on your unique governance responsibilities (planning, policy, governance issues, achieving sustainable resources, assessment/audit)?


In a perfect world (no such thing!), the Board outlines or approves “the what”. The CEO determines “the how” within available time and resources. The answer to “how” is simply “yes,” it will be done.


This approach is based on an open, trusting, creative and constructive partnership with your CEO or Executive Director. How you develop that partnership will be very much dependent on the nature of the individuals (especially the Chair and the CEO), the history and traditions of the Board and organization, and the degree of confidence in the chief officer. If you have confidence, get out of the way. If you don’t have confidence, you have a different issue.


What is your policy and plan for accountability, for evaluation, for succession?

  • Are these written? Clear? Open? Transparent?
  • Is there a strategic plan?
  • Does the strategic plan inform a business plan and an annual work plan for the CEO?
  • Does this drive your meeting agendas?
  • Is policy on evaluation known to all parties and followed?
  • Do you have a plan for succession?


You can’t have a great Board without a great CEO.
And you can’t have a great CEO without a great Board.


Send us your feedback! What are your main “pain points” dealing with a CEO? What advice would be most helpful to you? And we always assume that you are asking for a friend!



You can get more of my thoughts on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Join our Facebook Group for Executive Directors and Board members: Governance as Leadership.


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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