The Role of the Board Chair
Recently I had the chance to spend some time with a great group of board members at that National Association of Credit Union Chairmen (NACUC) – Leadership Development Seminar. One of the things we talked about was the role of the board chair. I thought this well worth putting down on *paper* as it were.
The role of the chairperson is multi-faceted, complex, and often changing within the context of the organization’s dynamic. Unfortunately, there’s no perfect set of “rules.” But there are some guidelines. Here are our “tips” on navigating the position successfully:
Facilitator – The board chair must draw together the individual directors into a team, working together on behalf of the membership and the credit union. To do that, s/he must wrangle individual personalities, draw out conversation from some, and rein it in from others. Having a solid understanding of the personalities of each director … and the CEO helps the chair keep things on track, moving forward, and civil.
Leader – Wait! Isn’t being a leader at odds with being a facilitator? Isn’t this a contradiction? No. There are times when the job is pure facilitation and times when it is leadership and setting direction. A skilled leader will know which is which and be able to handle both without perceptions of contradiction.
Arrives with and without Agendas – What?!
- Agendas are crucial … if we’re talking about a list of items for keeping the meeting on track: consent agenda, new business, tracking strategy, etc. The chair should put significant thought into the development of these (not simply copy and paste from last month/year). This simple document can decide the direction and productivity of the meeting significantly.
- Agendas are killers … if we’re talking about an ulterior motive, or a plan to take over, or change the direction of the organization in a contentious way. The chair should have no agendas such as this. His/her job to rally individual directors to create a shared mission for the credit union.
Transparent – the chair has a responsibility to be clear in purpose and approach. See above about the harm of the wrong kind of agendas. Remaining transparent, being clear in communication, and making sure that everyone understands your beliefs, your approach, and your methodology will bolster everyone’s trust in you.
Liaison with the CEO – The board chair is the point of contact for the board to the CEO. Unfettered access to the CEO by individual directors is a recipe for chaos. The chair can be both the unified voice of the board to the CEO, AND the gatekeeper of the CEO, making sure that individuals are not approaching with un-vetted side conversation and efforts to unduly influence.
Meeting Manager – This role is more pragmatic than that of facilitator. This keeps proceedings efficient, on track and productive. You, as chair, must be willing to cut off conversation appropriately, or promote it accordingly in the interest of time and efficiency.
Accountable – The buck stops here. The chair is responsible for the actions and outcomes of the board as a whole.
Visionary – A leader must be capable and willing to see a future with ambitious goals and help forge a path toward accomplishment.
Strategic Motivator – keeps urging progress towards strategic goals. Reinforces the importance of the mission and vision of the credit union, on behalf of the members.
Spokesperson for Media – Sounds like a job for the CEO, right? Maybe sometimes that’s true, but not always. The chair should always be ready to step in to speak on behalf of the credit union. (This is part of that “buck-stops-here” thing.) What if the CEO departs unexpectedly, or there is a crisis? It’s up to the chair to represent. And being a capable spokesperson is a great opportunity to reinforce the not-for-profit, cooperative structure of the institution, with a volunteer board setting the strategy and direction.
This might not be everything. We don’t claim to have every scenario nailed down. But it seems a good start.
What are your thoughts? What would you add to this list?