They are often characterised as “first among equals” – they have no executive power and no boss (maybe, aside from shareholders), yet their performance and impact are considered critical to organisational success. So how do you choose the right board chair?
At Decipher Group, we’ve had many years of industry experience and insights, working alongside boards, non-executive directors and chairs. We are pleased to share the ‘abridged version’ of the Decipher Group guide to what makes a great board chair.
Ability to focus on the big picture
Somewhat understandable, considering most directors have at one point been CEOs or executive directors, but a board chair needs to be clear about the role of governance. Providing leadership and guidelines to enable management decisions, not taking responsibility for making those decisions.
Allow others to shine
Leadership is about helping others to do their job, not finding the solution. According to leading business school INSEAD, in their Global Chairs’ Research Project, “humility and ego management” are considered major indicators of an effective board chair. Encouraging productive board discussions, leading to effective decision-making, requires non-domineering restraint. Good chairs speak little and avoid the use of “I”. At the end of the day, the best solution is the right solution, regardless of whose idea it was.
They are present and passionate
The job of chair can easily be double that of a director, it’s a significant time commitment. To do the role justice, a professional director should have around four to six directorships. It’s not just the administrative duties required but also the prep work as well as mentoring and coaching (both directors and CEO) required of a board chair. Having passion for the role and the company also helps. A good chair does their job professionally but should also care about the company and its people.
They rethink team work
Boards meet periodically, directors spend little time together and generally sit on several different boards. Studies have shown that common approaches to team building do not work for boards because they are not traditional teams.
Based on years of research working with teams, Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson believes that high performance arises when leaders encourage “teaming” – gathering experts in a temporary group to solve problems. A successful board chair creates the environment for teaming, encouraging individuals to speak up and contribute. It’s their role to also demonstrate these behaviours – by asking genuine questions, listening and displaying curiosity.
Focus on people not metrics
An effective board should not be defined by a single metric. Rather performance should focus on evaluating whether the board has the people capability to deliver. Successful board chairs are champions for understanding the skills and competencies of directors and determining (and filling) gaps.
Represent the board to shareholders
Successful board chairs see value in maintaining a constructive and productive relationship with shareholders. The chair’s role is to act as an interface – being the collective voice of the board.
Ultimately, a good board chair clearly understands their role. They create the environment where effective discussion and decision making occurs, and they recognise that they are first among equals.
If you are looking for direction and assistance to elevate the impact of your board, get in touch with us. We’d love to chat.
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