Free Thoughts - Leading as board chair

Posted By: Monroe Free Learning Together,

So you are stepping up into the chair role for the board, what are you going to do first?

A couple of years ago I was asked that question as I was about to begin my term as chair of the Together SC Board. I had only been a board chair one other time in my career and that was for a startup. Getting started is different in so many ways. I did not have a ready answer for the question. My perspective for 35 years has been that of an Executive. My questions had been what do I need to do to help the incoming chair be successful and how are the best ways for me to relate to the new chair.

I believe that the best determinant of health for a nonprofit is the relationship between the Board and the Executive. The corollary is that the determinant of the health of a board is the relationship between the chair and the executive. So this is no small matter in my mind.  

But now two years into my term and about to roll off as chair I have some thoughts about the answer to the question.

Let me share them with you. 

  • Define how the chair and the executive work together. Knowing the communication styles of the two and setting a calendar plan for consistent communication is most helpful. What is the best communication method can be helpful. Phone, email, text? Such definition can prevent unnecessary frustration on one or the others’ part.
  • Articulate goals and aspirations for the coming board year. Are there changes you want to see in the way the board functions? Are there key relationships that you want to develop and nurture? Are there directions you want the board and organization to take? Are there particular gifts and talents that the board chair has that can help the organization advance its mission? Getting the goals on the table enables others to have input and assist in achievement.
  • Establish the boundaries. Everyone has a few “do’s” and  “do not’s”. Share them. It may be as simple as don’t call after 7pm. It may be as a list of things you want to always be informed about. Letting people know the boundaries will prevent conflict.
  • Meet with the outgoing chair. A former chair can help identify key issues coming down the road or unfinished business of the board. Developing a partnership and soliciting input with the former chair can provide great benefit.
  • Get to know the board members. Some of my most successful board chairs have made individual calls or meetings with each board member as their term starts a priority. Such more personal interactions can build understanding and trust.

Thank you to all who are stepping up to become board chairs. I hope your term is as meaningful as mine has been at Together SC.

Starting well as a board chair lays the foundation for a successful term of leadership.

I hope these words help you start well.