Principles for Productive Board-CEO Relationships

Today, I’m preparing to teach a class on Sustainable Leadership in its Center for Social Entrepreneurship program at George Mason University. A significant part of the lesson is about boards, a subject that often (and to be fair, usually) stymies the most capable and professionals. While there is a lot to discuss and debate on the subject, here let me simply offer a simple framework for the board role.

Principles for Productive Board-CEO Relationships

1. The board creates committees to help us accomplish our job, not to do the Executive Director’s job.

2. We focus on governance, not management. In general, this means the board monitors and counsels, but should not get involved in the day-to-day affairs of the organization.

3. The board has one employee (the Executive Director) and the Executive Director has one employer (the board as a whole).

4. Board members do not have power or authority individually.

5. We have a role with responsibilities as a full board, as well as roles and responsibilities as individual board members.

6. The purpose of an Executive Committee is to represent the full board, and in rare instances, make urgent interim decisions. The purpose is not to reduce the power of the full board.

My clearer thinking on the nonprofit CEO-board partnership, and a few years ago, fundamental just-in-time tips was guided by consultant Jonathan D. Schick’s work. As I recall, he offers examples from experience directing private schools in his writing on the topic. Read his article outlining his six principles for the board-staff relationship.