Two Essential Tasks for Board Chairs
These two skills can strengthen their organization
There’s a problem with some of the words we use to describe board chairs. The post is often described as an “honor,” which it is, but the term gives the impression that being a chair is an award—and that the tenure is a victory lap. It’s also called a “role,” which emphasizes how a chair relates to the staff executive. But the word diminishes what being a board chair actually is, or ought to be: a job.
Of course, it’s not a job in a traditional sense. Even if you do it well, you’ll likely have to leave it after a year or two, and it’s not (usually) compensated. But thinking of the board chair position as a job might help stress the point that chairs have management tasks to take care of just like any other kind of leader. It’s typically said that staff leaders deal with operational, day-to-day matters while boards handle strategy, but board chairs have day-to-day responsibilities too when it comes to ensuring the board’s long-term health.
In “How to Be a Super Board Chair,” published last month in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, nonprofit leaders Jon Huggett and Mark Zitter get into what that job entails, particularly when it comes to managing other board members. The chair is the head of a “decision-making team,” they explain, and much of their advice is of the good-governance variety: set clear directions, run meetings well, be a good listener, be a good partner to the staff leader, get plenty of feedback. But they also spotlight two underappreciated job tasks for board chairs.
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