Partnership for Strategic Stewardship: Chief Executive and Board Chair

Today’s nonprofit organizations operate in a more challenging environment than ever before.  Survival and success depend upon effective, innovative leadership, and productive board/staff relationships, while anticipating and planning for the future. As changes in leadership are inevitable throughout the life of organizations, it is critical to plan ahead. Successful organizations have the stability and the resiliency to respond to changes in both their internal and external environments.

One of the most important ingredients of a successful organization is the strategic stewardship between the board chair and chief executive. In partnership, these two leaders are jointly responsible for the stability and sustainability of the enterprise. This relationship has clear challenges and opportunities which will determine the strength of the partnership. When this partnership is not operating smoothly, we have seen  organizations placed in great jeopardy. Everyone is impacted by the dysfunctional dynamics of an obvious power struggle, as the strength and resiliency of the organization suffers.

Best practices indicate that at the time that a new chief executive or the new board chair assumes their role, the two key leaders would benefit from joint coaching, to clarify expectations on how they can best work together as a team, and create a strategic stewardship.

To enhance the interface between these leadership roles, it is useful to set up formal practices that help both leaders discern between organizational and personal issues to create transparency in their communications. The following suggestions are provided to help ensure an effective partnership:

  • Determining jointly the frequency and focus of meetings to be held between the chief executive and board chair; always record the highlights of these sessions and share with executive committee.
  • Agendas for board meetings developed jointly by the board chair and chief executive.
  • Board chair in consultation with the chief executive, when appointing (or suggesting to the board) chairs for various committees and a slate of officers.
  • Clearly written guidelines about the roles of staff when they provide ongoing support to board committees.
  • Regular board training sessions that define the roles of board chair and chief executive, at least bi-annually.
  • Rotate the board chair position every two-three years to ensure new and fresh perspectives in the role expertise.
  • Developing board chairs by selecting vice chairs who demonstrate requisite leadership.
  • Clearly written performance expectations and outcomes for evaluating the chief executive, with an approach that ensures 360 feedback from all key reports and stakeholders, on regular basis.

Why not begin every new partnership with a conversation about joint expectations?

Authored by Priscilla Rosenwald