Developing the CEO/Chair Partnership: One Approach that Works

intentional practices roles and responsibilities the board/ceo partnership May 01, 2023
Developing the CEO/Chair Partnership: Here Is One Approach that Works


The CEO/Board Chair relationship can be amazingly nourishing and productive. Or it can be isolating and destructive. Often it is a simple question of how to frame the relationship. How to develop the partnership. Here is one approach.


First, what are you looking for in this critical partnership? One assumes mutual support, transparency, trust. One could add “as a minimum” but for many “partnerships” this is a tall order. And a seemingly unattainable aspiration.


Second, what disclosures and discussions have occurred to date? Too often the CEO or Executive Director is the permanent fixture “entertaining” a rotating door of Board chairs. After the election there may be a brief conversation reinforcing goodwill and a productive partnership. But the necessary groundwork is rarely undertaken.


We are proposing one approach here. One that suggests equal but different roles. Although the Chair clearly represents the employer, there is a co-pilot role with the CEO as well – one shepherding management and operations, and one shepherding policy and oversight. Each is a leader, one of staff and services and one of board members and governance.


With different perspectives but similar goals, and with different backgrounds, skills and knowledge but similar commitment, we can learn from each other. Equally important, we can learn of each other.

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Worth considering is a coaching relationship. Not one to the other. But both/and. In this scenario, you need to pay attention to your coaching skills as a leader. The common but overlooked mantra of “seek first to understand” is important here.


Here are a few questions to consider in your conversations, regardless of who is initiating the conversation:

  • Tell me more about this issue, goal, need.
  • How is this issue affecting you and others?
  • In what situations do you need to use this skill or knowledge?
  • What tells you that you are lacking in this skill or knowledge?
  • What would the ideal outcome be?
  • What have you tried so far?
  • How is this similar to, or different from, the way you have approached this in the past?
  • What worked, what didn’t, what did you learn?
  • How can we bridge the gap in skills or knowledge?
  • What do you believe you need to do differently?
  • What if you asked for exactly what you want?


You can of course think of your own questions.


The bottom line is sharing perspectives, knowledge, and skill sets. And making it clear that we are each vested in the success of the other.


This partnership is creative and constructive – and absolutely critical to a successful organization.


What are your main “pain points” dealing with the CEO/Chair partnership? 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.



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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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