Our blog on ‘Succession Planning for the Chair of the Board’ highlighted the importance of the Chair role and the skills, experience and behaviours needed; the ability to lead the Board and liaise with the CEO/MD on behalf of the Board is essential for successful governance.
It’s essential that the person appointed is willing and able to make time for all the tasks expected of them in the 21st century, and their induction process should clearly set out the role, which includes:
- Preparing for Board meetings
- Leading and facilitating Board discussions and decision making
- Ensuring the Board gets all the information it needs, in the best format
- Ensuring Board minutes are accurate and complete
- Liaising with, and meeting at least monthly with the CEO/MD – to follow up on the last Board meeting and catch up on progress, and to plan the next meeting and maybe the next few meetings
- Leading the induction process for new Board members, ensuring clarity about the particular contribution expected from them
- Ensuring that all Board members receive the training they need – on their legal duties, roles, responsibilities and all aspects of being an effective Board member
- Meeting key stakeholders (often with the CEO/MD) on behalf of the Board (eg) politicians, funders, community representatives
- Leading the Board level review processes at least annually (Board team self-assessment and individual Board member reviews)
In the course of our work, we meet many Chairs of Boards who, even if they have had extensive experience in their executive career can feel rather uncertain when they take on the new role of Chair. Sometimes they need to be reminded that they’re not Chair of the organisation; they are Chair of the Board – a subtle but really important nuance. The Chair has no more legal responsibility than any of their Board colleagues, and they only have the authority that their Board delegates to them (which should be clearly set out in their Role Description and in the Scheme of Delegation). They are ‘first among equals’ on the Board.
Real understanding of boardroom roles is essential for the Chair and, like any other Board member, they should receive training on the legal duties of the Board, and should get a comprehensive Governance Manual, with all the relevant documents for their induction and ongoing learning. They should be given a tailored induction programme, with all of the standard induction activities that all new Board members get, and also with additional specific learning for them (eg) an introduction to this particular sector if their career experience has been in a different sector. If possible, the outgoing Chair of the Board should spend time with the new Chair talking through the key strengths, development needs, opportunities and threats facing the organisation. There should be an opportunity for them to meet each of their Board colleagues, both individually and collectively, to get to know them as people and as Board members.
In the 21st century, many new Chairs of Boards engage in coaching or mentoring, to support their initial learning and ongoing development in what is such a key role for Board effectiveness.