Four Ways to Improve the Chair/CEO Partnership

intentional practices roles and responsibilities the board/ceo partnership Jul 17, 2023
Four Ways to Improve The Chair/CEO Partnership


Why is the Chair/CEO partnership so often problematic or, perhaps even worse, just plain “meh.” How do we work to build a partnership that is robust and effective in service to the organization? Here are four basic practices for creating a culture where self-motivation can flourish.


I have been fortunate to follow and learn from both Jim Collins and Dan Pink. Indeed, we highly recommend Collins’ important work Good To Great And The Social Sectors.


The Board Chair and the Chief Executive Officer or Executive Director spend relatively little time together in the grand scheme of a work week or month. Yet their relationship affects the work of the Board in governance and leadership and the work of the organization in management and operations. So how do they motivate each other or encourage self-motivation?


Collins, as reported by Dan Pink in his book Drive, suggests four basic practices for creating a culture where self-motivation can flourish:

1. Lead with questions, not answers.
2. Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion.
3. Conduct autopsies, without blame.
4. Build ‘red flag’ mechanisms.

In other words, make it easy for everyone to speak up when they identify a problem.


Although Collins' recommendations are not aimed specifically at the Chair/CEO partnership, they do resonate when encouraging reflection and problem-solving.


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Here are a few brief applications:


1. Lead with questions, not answers. Much more information and support, and indeed critical analysis, is engendered when you lead with, “how me to understand how, or why, you made the decision to…”


2. Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion. The Chair is the employer but the Chair is also temporary. Listing the top three pros and cons of an argument, or engaging in role reversal and having the discussion, can be productive in examining alternatives and understanding others.

3. Conduct autopsies without blame. Can we just admit that we need risk-takers to be successful? But can we also acknowledge that not every program or service works as intended? FAIL is sometimes an acronym for First Attempt in Learning. The Chair can focus the Board, and the Chair and CEO each other, on reviews without necessarily pointing fingers.

4. Build ‘red flag’ mechanisms. This, of course, is consistent with feedback mechanisms from clients and senior staff, which every Board should have. It is also consistent with important training for all Board members in basic financial literacy. What will success look like? What will be the markers for problems? How can we identify them?


How do you build a culture of assessment? How do you encourage self-motivation? How do you strategically and methodically work to build that critical partnership? 


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




Strengthen Your Partnership Here.

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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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