Stiles of a Good Chair

splats-stilesA Chair comprises many parts.

One area of responsibility is to maintain effective relationships – with management, with shareholders, and with the wider community (public, media, politicians).

Another is to influence and foster the organisation’s vision and values, its culture and standards, its ethical behaviour and its adherence to law.

However the prime role is to be responsible for the working of the board, enabling it to direct, grow and manage the company to the expectations of shareholders, employees, customers, other stakeholders and community. This is certainly a leadership role, but with considerably less power or permanence than those conferred on the CE. It is essentially a co-ordinating, facilitating function, with an authority of office bestowed and terminable by the directors. The term “servant leader” is useful.

Over the years I have learned a lot from observing chairs – from the excellent to the awful. And I’m still learning. A good chair is likely to exhibit most of these characteristics: –

  • Occupational Personality – likely to be a Co-ordinator (see Saville & Holdsworth, Belbin et al). Sees the big picture, synthesizes issues, articulates and sums up well, clarifies decisions. Confident, stable, mature, courteous, consistent, impartial, perceptive, judicious. A natural team leader.
  • While IQ is important, high EQ is essential.
  • Depoliticiser – works to eliminate factions, politics, gossip and disloyalty from the team.
  • Shows integrity in dealing with conflicts of interest, interpersonal hostility, breaches of standards, destructive behaviour. Displays and expects honesty.
  • Trusts the collective wisdom of the board to arrive at a better decision than any individual would have.
  • Fosters a “Blaming is Unproductive” culture. Does not recriminate; just accepts the situation as it is, and calmly co-ordinates a recovery plan.
  • Respects people’s dignity, delivering any disappointment or reprimand privately.
  • While preferably a former CE (of another company!), has no desire to usurp the role and status of the CE. Those days are gone.
  • Leads the succession planning and selection of new members to gain diversity of thought. Ensures good induction.
  • Champions the periodic evaluation of director and board performance.

A competent chair will organize the work of the board meticulously, so that agenda, minutes, board papers, work programme, action plans, strategy sessions, committees and locations are arranged for optimal board performance.

To add to life’s rich tapestry, I have come across a few really bad chairs too – bullies, bigmouths, buffoons, bumblers and lazy-boys.

For much more, the IOD offers a wealth of resources, an excellent course, ”Chairing the Board” plus plenty of chances to converse with its superstars, the Distinguished Fellows and senior chairs who are invariably generous with their time and counsel.