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Last updated June 26, 2019

If you are the Board Chair, or thinking of stepping up to the role, one of your key jobs will be nurturing and managing a positive, clear and vital relationship with your CEO.  Sometimes, you will inherit a relationship that has struggled in the past, and it always takes time to build trust and confidence in each other.  Hopefully here we can give you some guiding principles to get off to a great start. In this article we use the term CEO, but it could be your head honcho, or usually operations manager.

Keep Clear

Ultimately it boils down to this: the Board Chair is in place to run the board, the CEO is in place to run the organisation.  It is often so easy to blur the lines between what is a strategic, big picture board decision, and what is purely an operational matter.  Naturally, the two are close bed-fellows, but crossing the line is a sure-fire way to lose respect and trust and build up resentment.  It also makes life difficult for other staff, volunteers and board members, who don’t know where to turn for guidance.  The best way to prevent this is to have really clear roles and responsibilities, for both your board Chair and your CEO right from the start.  Make sure you have clear jobs descriptions and key performance indicators and use them to guide your interactions. Know and understand the differences, and discuss how you want to make this work

Trust in Your CEO

Whilst knowing your role is important, having the trust that your CEO is capable of fulfilling their role is what will stop you crossing the line and meddling.  We call it ‘staying in your lane’.  Trusting your CEO to do their job will only mean a stronger relationship, better communication and more success. If you are struggling, examine why; is it coming from you, or are there issues you need to address that will help you relax and back off.

Open Communication

Your CEO needs to know that they can come to you when life hits a speed bump (it always will), and you will answer the phone, reply to the email and make your response a priority.  They also need to know they will be met with an open and supportive attitude, and someone that will help them through whatever it is.  Ultimately you are on the same side and you took the role of Chair because you are passionate about the cause.  Keep that front of mind when making yourself available.

It Goes Both Ways

Knowing you will be there for support is a big reassurance for CEO’s dealing with day to day non-profit life, but you both also need to be comfortable that this channel of communication is for constructive feedback too.  Part of that is providing an annual review, that is regularly implemented and meaningful.

Own Your Strengths and Weaknesses

If you are struggling to get to grips with the role of Chair and feel like leading your team is a daunting task, admit it. If you know there are gaps, put your hand up, ask for help, and do whatever you can to attend training, networking sessions, take online courses, read books and generally soak up the knowledge.  You might be able to find a mentor in another non-profit board who can help guide you, but most importantly make sure you let your CEO know you are on this journey. Conversely, identify your strengths and share them with your CEO so they know they have an expert on their team.

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