Governing Board Leadership

Your success as a governing body and the future of your organization will rise and fall based on the strength of the mutual trust between the CEO and the board. CEO’s that don’t trust their boards don’t bring them the truth. Board’s that don’t trust their CEO tighten policy to restrict CEO authority, don’t support CEO recommendations, delay making key decisions for the organization and constantly question CEO progress reports.

What builds trust? Quite simply it is keeping your word. For CEO’s that means executing on directives by motion from the board and delivering on “I will” statements when volunteering to provide information, contact board members, submit progress reports etc. between meetings. For directors that means delivering on promises of support, even in the heat of controversy or opposition, and executing on actions promised (e.g. calls to potential clients or donors, attending committee meetings and so on).

I often encounter directors that state “I’m not sure the CEO is following our directives”. Such a question indicates the beginning of the erosion of trust. Not knowing leads to assuming the negative and the group can go down hill from there.

I recommend to my clients that a) the board maintain an accurate list of pending directives and that b) the CEO be proactive in reporting on the status of outstanding directives at each meeting.

I suggest that the chair designate the secretary-treasurer of the board to maintain the list of directives delivered to the CEO. The nature of the directive or motion and the due date should be recorded on the list. (Note: all directives should have a due date that is agreed to by the CEO.) Do not rely on the CEO or the secretary taking minutes to maintain this list. If the CEO asks for the list, provide it, but I counsel CEO’s to maintain their own list as well.

At each meeting, as part of the CEO’s report to the board, all outstanding directives should be reported upon.

A consistent record of honoring commitments made to the board (i.e., why it is important that the board and CEO agree on and record the due date) will build and maintain the trust line that is vital to your organization progressing.