Building the Bridge Between Boards & CEOs

Businessmen shaking hands. Business concept illustration.

Board members and CEOs may serve different purposes in an organization, but with the right working relationship, they can help take a company to new heights. Creating a strong bond between these two entities takes time, focus, and mutual respect, but once it’s been created, the connection can be the difference between a company that just gets by and one that excels.

When it comes to getting the most out of the board to CEO relationship, here are our suggestions:

  1. CEOs should interact with board members individually and as a group. 

Somewhat obviously, new CEOs should begin their tenure by getting to know the board chair. These two individuals ought to have the most in depth working relationship at the highest level of corporate leadership, and the effort to develop the partnership should come from both parties. CEOs should then turn their attention to developing camaraderie with other individual board members as well as with the board as a whole. As Harvard Business Review writer Stephen D. Garrow writes, “Through a personal dialogue, the CEO can better enlist them in important initiatives and address issues before they become crises. In addition, by creating a personal bond with the individual directors, the CEO lessens the odds that they will undermine or blindside him.”

  1. Create a foundation of transparency.

There’s nothing that a CEO or a board hates more than being adversely surprised by their leadership counterpart. Work to establish the expectation of openness and proactive communication. Russell Reynolds Associates insists that all parties should “work to create an environment characterized by mutual respect,” and be “fully transparent regarding their opinions, plans and underlying motivations.” Not only does this create a more trusting leadership environment, it also improves the organization’s lines of communication.

  1. Stay in your lanes.

Sure, this sounds much easier said than done. But when CEOs and boards understand how their responsibilities do and do not overlap, they can avoid stepping on one another’s toes or creating unnecessary strain inside of the organization they serve. One of the best ways to establish these “lanes” is to have the CEO sit down with the board (or board chair) for a thorough discussion about expectations for both entities. When expectations are clear, each leader is more likely to fulfill their duties in the eyes of their colleagues. For a detailed list of the suggested responsibilities for both parties, visit this document compiled by Russell Reynolds Associates.

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