30 Aug 2021
Deeper Dive: Working with the CEO
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As much as board chairs work constantly with their fellow directors, no single relationship is more pivotal in the governance structure than that between the chair and the CEO. The board agenda and every critical organizational decision go through both offices and are the subject of formal and informal dialogue between the two along the way. Naturally, the more frequent, more challenging or more pivotal decisions become, the more critical the relationship.
Without exception, every chair we interviewed says the foundations of a healthy chair-CEO relationship are openness, trust and mutual respect for the other’s role. “There can be no surprises,” says Bob Bell, former deputy minister of health in Ontario.
The mechanics of chair-CEO dialogue vary by circumstance and location—some have weekly in-person meetings, others regularly scheduled phone calls, with more of each on the fly as needs arise. Other dynamics of the relationship are shaped by style and personality, but most important, says Hydro One chair Tim Hodgson, is the depth of rapport.
“In a really high-functioning relationship there’s a sort of honesty, maybe at the level of humility, to say, ‘I know what I’m good at, I know what I’m not good at; you understand what you’re good at, you understand what you’re not good at. Let’s talk about it. Where have we got this and how are we going to divide the world? Where do we not have this and how are we going to supplement it?’”
Against this overall backdrop, our participants highlighted six primary elements that define the relationship and require greatest attention to ensure success.