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Optimum Talks Blog

5 Tips for a More Effective Board and CEO Relationship

by Ryna Young + Kevin Kirkpatrick
February 17, 2021

The relationship between a CEO and their board can be complex and for many leaders, it is hard to navigate how to make the most of it. With many different dynamics at play, the earlier a CEO can learn to effectively partner with their board, the sooner their performance and that of the overall organization will be boosted. Here are five tips to help get you started:


  1. Clearly define your roles and set expectations.

Right from the start, it is important to establish both a formal and informal relationship with each board member based on respect, transparency, and trust.  Following that, the CEO should determine the scope of the board and think strategically about how to harness their collective expertise. It is recommended to use the corporate bylaws to help guide this process to ensure both the CEO and board members know what is expected of them in their roles and the relationship. The CEO should be open to the varying views and opinions of the board, recognizing that they are ultimately in place to support them and to help lead the organization to success.


  1. Align the executive team and board around strategic planning.

Using a defined framework, the CEO should lead the board through a process to identify and map the 3–5-year plan for the organizations’ services, objectives, and growth goals. This will help ensure a clear vision that can be communicated to the leadership team and help guide decision making. The board’s role in strategic planning entails identifying priorities, establishing goals and objectives, acquiring resources, and allocating funds to support the decisions that need to be made relative to strategic planning. Once the plan is complete, the board is also responsible for monitoring its implementation.


  1. Define what board advocacy looks like.

The board is in place to monitor the organization and ensure the corporation’s interests are upheld.  However, if the organization is not for profit or in healthcare, it may fall on the board to work with the CEO to advocate for the organization’s best interests with governing bodies. Further, when dealing specifically with hospital boards, they are also responsible for the Chief of Staff, so it is important to be clear on the ground rules. Setting out a plan and boundaries for this is critical in assisting the corporation while not jeopardizing relationships with the governing bodies.


  1. Establish regular reporting and incidental processes.

Open and transparent communication is key to all relationships and the same is said for boards.  The CEO should set expectations within the bylaws on how the board should be notified of ongoing updates on corporate performance as well as what steps are in place for crisis event communication.


  1. Develop succession plans for the CEO and board members.

The board is a team much like the leadership staff. As such, the CEO and Chair should ensure the board reflects the skills needed to be effective. Not only that, but the board should also be continually developing the skills and experience of its members. By developing a skills matrix for the board, the CEO can identify key skills as well as the gaps where additional skills may need to be added or developed.  If there are skills or diversity gaps, it is best to recognize these early and build succession plans that ensure you have a future path to close those gaps and ensure continuity.

Like any relationship, the CEO-Board one needs a solid foundation of trust, respect, and openness along with invested time and energy to make it successful. Be clear, set expectations from the beginning, deal with conflict head-on, and have short and long-term plans to help guide decisions and ensure value out of all parties.   Lastly, don’t underestimate the wide range of valuable advice and guidance that can be acquired by board members. Often, they bring a diverse background in areas such as Finance, Law, IT, Engineering, Academic, Public Relations, and more, which can bring different thinking and approaches to various issues.


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