The relationship between the Chair and the CEO

I was recently asked to speak at an event organised by Gallanach alongside Sarah Maguire, CEO of Choice Support, and Norman Blissett of Gallanach, on the topic of the relationship between the Chair and the CEO. 

When the relationship works, the potential for impact is limitless. When it doesn’t, the consequences for staff and beneficiaries can be tragic. My approach was to present lots of anonymised case studies, more often than not, highlighting where things had gone wrong in order that lessons could be learnt. Unfortunately I had too many examples! 

I have summed up what is a far ranging subject into 5 succinct points:

  1. The ethics and culture of the organisation have to be right. These are set by the board who act as the custodians of the values and determine the way things are done. The motivation for people joining the board therefore needs to be tested before someone becomes a trustee; if the motivation is wrong, particularly with the chair, the whole edifice will eventually collapse.
  2. From the outset the CEO and Chair need to be clear on their roles. The Chair is there to lead and develop the board and has a focus on strategy, policy, compliance and sustainability. The CEO is responsible for running the charity and delivering the board’s strategic intent. Whilst there can be grey areas and pragmatism should reign, stabling the boundaries is crucial.
  3. Transparency should be sacrosanct. The CEO needs to appreciate the role of the Chair and the board and recognise that they are accountable to regulators for the management of the organisation it and yet is very difficult for the board to fulfil its duties when they are not close to the day to day running of the organisation. It is therefore crucial that the board is not taken by surprise.
  4. Mutual respect is vital. The Chair and CEO need not like one another necessarily, and I would urge them to avoid being close friends, but there does need to be a healthy respect for each other’s role and professional background. When the Chair lacks respect for the CEO they can become a bully or over step their mark operationally. Vice versa, the CEO can railroad things through the board.
  5. There has to be a regular exchange of information. The Chair and CEO should at the minimum, in my experience, have a weekly catch up on the phone and a monthly meeting. Like a marriage, relationships need work and if there are not regular points of contact, then distrust or misunderstandings occur. The Chair and CEO need each other to fulfil their respective roles!

To conclude, it is all about the charitable objectives of the charity. If that is held as the North Star, then all decisions and actions will be working to achieve the shared vision.

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