There are two kinds of senior leadership. Both work. At least for a while.
The ‘smartest person’ depends on having all the answers and providing all the direction. This leader attracts followers.
The ‘facilitator’ depends on the CEO being surrounded by other smart people and holding them accountable for helping to set direction and making things happen. This leader attracts other leaders.
From a results perspective, the ‘smartest person’ often starts well. But it can fade fast. It’s hard knowing everything, and having to make all the decisions bottlenecks most of today’s fast-paced businesses.
Leading by facilitating is more sustainable because it shares the decision making and leadership load with other smart leaders. Trusting others can be scary. However, the thing about smart people is they often surprise you and they learn from their mistakes.
So, what does it take to look after a team of good leaders?
- Trust in their motivation.
- Respect for their expertise and skills.
- A clear set of expectations.
- Clear accountability for results.
- Encouragement to act, even take a risk.
- Help eliminating roadblocks and barriers.
- Recognition for a job well done.
Leading other leaders takes a lot of confidence. I think it takes more confidence than it takes to be the smartest person in the room.
A strong Board Chair can be the difference between flourishing in a CEO role and hating it.
What makes a strong Board Chair? I see several key attributes:
- understands corporate governance, including Board role and process
- understands the role of the CEO
- understands the business
- knows how to lead, make decisions, follow-up
- has empathy for the CEO and other Directors
- is available and easy to access when necessary
A Board Chair with these attributes is great for a CEO to work with. They keep the Board focused on its role while supporting the CEO in theirs. This enables the CEO to lead the organization at the operational level without interference.
‘Managing’ a Board Chair without these attributes can be a double-edged sword for CEO’s. The downside is too much time spent by the CEO on Board issues and corporate governance. It can also mean poor decision making and unfair demands on the CEO by a Board that is struggling with its role.
The upside is something that almost every CEO craves – direct input and influence over the Board’s direction, decision making and governance process. It’s true that poorly lead Boards tend to rely too much on their CEO for governance direction. That’s a desirable outcome for many CEO’s!
The relationship between the Board Chair and the CEO can make or break a CEO – and the organization. Making it work is the responsibility of both.