Effective boards recognize they have only one employee. When a Board focuses on its governance role, it delegates operational responsibility to the organization’s CEO or Executive Director (or whatever the first-chair title is). When a Board prudently trusts its CEO/ED, overall efficacy increases. When trust erodes, something eventually fails that then becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible, to restore. Effective boards can help prevent that erosion.
Let’s take a look at a few essentials when it comes to the Board’s role in the arena of leadership transitions. After all, the Board is responsible for representing the owners of the organization, and one means of fulfilling that responsibility is the careful selection and subsequent support of the organization’s primary leader.
The Board as a whole, and the individuals serving on it, must be clear about and in full alignment with the organization’s mission: The difference it exists to make in the lives of a particular group of people and why. It is also essential for board members to understand the organization’s current status within the Organizational Life Cycle Model (See our previous blog). This clarity and alignment help ensure mutual understanding of leadership selection criteria and an aligned why certain candidates are more suited than others at this time.
Clear Plan and Process
One aspect of governance is the board’s self-governance. One aspect of self-governance is a disciplined approach to reviewing and refining its policies, plans, and processes. A comprehensive and up-to-date leadership succession plan is the Board’s responsibility. It can delegate the initial drafting of the plan to a task force, but it must own the responsibility of keeping it current, accurate, and relevant. Within an annual rotation of policy and plan reviews, each member regularly refreshes their familiarity with the leadership succession plan.
The presence of a well-conceived and reviewed leadership succession plan helps the Board, the first-chair, and the staff more fully trust each other, the system, and the organization as a whole.
Avoid Assumption-Based Abdication
When the First-Chair/Board relationship has been healthy, the mission is being fulfilled, and the financial picture is serene, it is easy to assume that a flawless leadership transition will simply occur if a few practical steps are taken. This is when Assumption-Based Abdication drifts into the system almost unnoticed. I say almost because one or more individuals on the Board will have an intuitive sense that more attention ought to be paid to as-yet-unmentioned particulars. Here are a few to elevate to dialogue level:
- What/Who are we trusting that we ought to seek verification on?
- Which of our fiduciary duties are we assuming will not veer off course during this transition? What will we do to ensure we stay on course and how will we do it?
- What are the anxieties in the system and who is best suited to take point on identifying and addressing them? (This includes the leaders in transition as well as stakeholders.)
- How will we celebrate what ought to be celebrated and address what ought to be corrected in ways that build and strengthen trust within relationships and partnerships?