4 Tips to Ensure Your Board Chair Is Successful


2 men discussing tips for a successful board chair

This should come as no surprise, but you need the Chair of your board to succeed at what they do. To ensure this, certain processes need to be in place to help them to continually improve their performance. This leads to the ongoing success of your board, CEO, and organisation.

Organisational tone starts from the top and works its way down. Your board and Chair significantly impact culture, character, and performance, and all key players involved should be deliberate in their commitment to achieving high performance and sustaining it over time.

The Chair’s leadership is a powerful driving force for achieving and sustaining high performance, which is why the experts at Board Surveys have pulled together four tips to help you set up your Chair for success. Follow these and see the benefits with your board and throughout your entire organisation.

Tip #1: Always back your Chair

It is the ongoing responsibility of each director to back their Chair. This can be done by providing ongoing encouragement and support and constructively challenging their Chair. We have seen many times how this directly increases the Chairs’ performance and effectiveness.

A director we interviewed recently confired this, “I want to see our Chair flourish because if they do, so will we as a board and so will our organisation”.”

We could not have said this better. However, it is important to note that backing your Chair is not a one-way street. It is also your Chair’s responsibility to provide strong leadership and commitment to the board, no matter what. This two-way support needs to be a deliberate discussion around your board table so that clear expectations can be set and maintained.

Tip #2: Review the Chair’s effectiveness regularly

Regularly reviewing the effectiveness and performance of the Chair should be a standard feature as part of your board review. This can be a light touch or an in-depth review using a benchmarked survey that includes measuring the Chair’s effectiveness and performance. By benchmarking your Chair’s performance and effectiveness against other similar organisations, you will better understand which are the strongest and weakest attributes of your Chair, setting a good baseline from which to monitor any changes.

An externally facilitated board review normally includes interviews with directors and executives, along with tailored questions regarding the strengths of the Chair. There will also be space to gather any recommendations the directors and executives have for improvement.

To protect anonymity and garner honest responses, interviewee feedback is randomised before being provided in writing to the Chair. An external governance expert can work with the Chair to determine the elements the Chair believes to be their strengths and improvement areas based on the responses. From there, the Chair should share that summary with their fellow directors.

This creates a display of vulnerability from the Chair, who acknowledges that they have areas for improvement, which is undoubtedly beneficial for all. By committing to improvements in the relevant areas and asking for assistance from fellow directors, a high bar is set and a good example laid out for other directors and the CEO to follow.

Tip #3: Have the Chair step out of the boardroom once a year

A small number of organisations already ask their Chair to step out of the boardroom once a year, but in our experience many boards do not. This should be a regular feature in your annual governance calendar, and it is as simple as a 10-minute segment where the Chair steps out of the room while a senior director facilitates a discussion about the Chair’s strengths and areas of improvement.

This is not some malicious segment during which the board can complain behind the Chair’s back; rather, it is a way to gather honest and constructive feedback, summarise it, and deliver it a brief summary when the Chair returns to the room. A more detailed debrief can also be provided to the Chair off-line.

We have only ever seen positive responses to this, with many Chairs cherishing this valuable feedback. Chairs are encouraged to relay this information to the whole board with a summary of how they intend to act on the feedback. Please also note that putting this important governance practice into place when things are going well is an easier way to ease into the process than choosing a time when performance is not up to scratch.

Tip #4: Create a specific feedback reporter role to support the Chair

Senior fellow directors are often used as a sounding board for Chairs on certain issues or to seek guidance, so why not make it a formal role?

The Chair and individual directors should have regular discussions that emphasise a culture of courage and the ability to challenge the Chair when appropriate. Directors should feel comfortable addressing issues with their Chair, and if they do not, the board needs to create an environment and a safe place for this to happen.

This can be made easier if it is included in the job descriptions of the Deputy Chair, for example. They can act as a conduit for providing ongoing feedback, being the go-to person that other directors can talk to about any concerns (including any about the Chair); this will account for those who aren’t comfortable addressing the Chair directly. If you do not have a Deputy Chair role, the Chair of the Governance or Remuneration and Nominations Committee is a suitable pick as well. This ensures that all concerns of all directors are dealt with appropriately.

Improving your Chair and board with regular reviews

Remember, the board and Chair set your organisation’s overall tone and culture. These suggestions will put you on the path to high performance and are just as important as your regular board survey process, which irons out more strengths and weaknesses, providing valuable data on which you can build and grow.

Speak to the expert team at Board Surveys about the most efficient and affordable way to implement all of the above, and let’s make sure your board benefits today.


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