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A Bright Future When the Board Chair and CEO are a Strong Team

Two hands holding pieces of puzzle image

Imagine being a board chair and feeling like you made a difference today, if for no one else, at least the person that makes the day-to-day awesomeness happen.

Imagine being the CEO and feeling you have a trusted thought partner to turn to who knows you, the organization, and the community.

These were some of the future possibilities discussed at DANA’s 2016 conference on Catalytic Leadership. Creating the Future Fellow Justin Pollock asked workshop participants to consider what the board chair and CEO would need to feel, believe, and know for them to be confident and effective in their roles.

What emerged was wanting the ability to work seamlessly together, and to leverage their strengths which can create a multiplying effect that ripples through the Board of Directors, the organization, and the community. Their commitment to working together, taking the time to learn each other’s gifts, and listening and learning from each other is the foundation for decision making and action. This builds the trust and respect needed to jump in with confidence, and play the leadership role they have been elected and hired to do.

A healthy relationship can also help diffuse factors that can derail a positive leadership experience. Dynamics of organizational context, time availability, power, personal interests, and lack of role clarity can influence the manner in which the leader team is shaped. Our work culture does not typically encourage relationship building before getting down to business. There is so much to do, and task takes priority.  Then, just when the relationship has finally solidified, term limits require a new Board Chair, and the leader team formation begins all over again.

This all probably seems pretty intuitive. We all know that a good board chair/CEO relationship is required for having an engaged board and making effective decisions, right? Yet, how many boards have structured processes to encourage and ensure relationship building takes place?  How many have defined the qualities of a healthy strong board chair/CEO leader team? I suspect very few. We take it for granted that the board chair and CEO will work it out on their own.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.

Imagine what could be possible when the board chair and CEO commit time to build trust, and to explore what they need to feel, believe and know for their work to be successful in leading the Board and moving the organization forward. DANA is offering an opportunity for board chairs and CEOs to embark on this journey to make it possible.  In partnership with fellows from Creating the Future, who were featured at our Annual Conference last week, DANA is launching a Fellowship uniquely crafted for board chair and CEO teams. Recognizing the distinctive organizational and board context that each board chair and CEO lead, this series of learning sessions will provide not only in-depth exploration of what could be possible for their leadership, but also will allow for time to apply their discoveries within their organizations and boards.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with six board chairs over my years as Executive Director. And each one brought unique gifts to our team. We accomplished some pretty amazing things. However, there were bumps along the road and, with reflection, I’ve come to realize they often were early on in the relationship before we really understood each other. Having worked with Creating the Future in developing the DANA fellowship, it reinforces for me why the first job of a CEO and board chair is to really get to know each other and build the trust and respect to make it happen. DANA’s board just elected a new board chair, Michele Schiavoni, and with the knowledge I’ve gained in this area, I’m looking forward to getting to know her and exploring as a team our possibilities as leaders.