You’ve made it to the corner office and are now you’re a newly minted CEO. Congratulations! It took a lot of hard work to get there. Now the real works begins.
Among the many things that you will need to master, in short order, will likely be working with a board of directors. You should view this as a terrific opportunity to get to know each director and see how they can help you successfully navigate the initial stages of your tenure. How you approach this endeavor will not only set the tone for your leadership style but will help position you and the company for future success.
When I first took the helm of an organization and started reporting to a board, I received the following advice:
- Remember that you work for the board
- Ensure that you remain aligned with the board
- Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance from board members
You work for the board
Your first job will be to assess everything, and everyone associated with the enterprise. You might prioritize board members last after clients, executive leadership team, and your many employees. That would be a huge mistake. The board of directors are your collective bosses. This is doubly important if you are also the Chair. Nevertheless, why wouldn’t you want to establish a close working relationship with your boss? They each have an area of expertise, a wealth of corporate knowledge and contacts that you will find useful. Find out things that did not come up during the interview process that board members deem to be of utmost importance. As you establish yourself, you will want to enlist board support for the changes that you plan on implementing. Pick the first one carefully, and do it with support from your collective bosses. Ask yourself, “As an independent board member, how would you feel about the trust relationship that you have with the CEO?”
Remain Aligned with the Board
Establishing a relationship with each board member builds a bi-directional communication path that keeps you aligned on your mutual areas of responsibility. This is something that you will need to work on early in your tenure to establish communication guidelines and rhythms. There will always be times when you and the board disagree on an issue or direction, and without established guidelines for effective decision making and communication, you may be setting yourself up for an undesired outcome. How to have difficult conversations should be a topic that you and the board have discussed at length. Ask yourself, “do board members feel comfortable discussing issues with me in the room that might otherwise be covered only in an executive session?”
Ask for Assistance from Board Members
The primary duty of the board is to represent shareholders, as well as advise, assist, and appraise your performance. You need to develop a trust relationship that is mutual so that there are no surprises in either direction. Asking for help can go a long way to helping establish that trust. It is a sign of strength not weakness. Pick an area that you might be wrestling with and ask the Chair or other board members for input. The word will quickly spread that you are strong enough to ask for the board’s input without feeling that you are be perceived as not up to the task. Ask yourself, “how can we move forward more rapidly, if I utilize all available resources, including board member expertise, to solve this particular issue?”
Being CEO or a leader of any part of an organization is challenging but can be made easier by utilizing assistance from multiple sources. Tapping into the collective wisdom of your board members should be among the first places on your “go to” list of advisors. What are your concerns when it comes to working with your board of directors? Email me and let me know.