This week I want to focus on the role of the board chair and the importance of this position, particularly in relation to productive and successful board meetings. Obviously, the board chair plays a major role in leading the strategic direction and governance of a nonprofit agency. However, I am going to limit my discussion to the role that the board chair plays as the designated facilitator or leader of board meetings.
The board chair has a great burden to carry because the rest of the board expects the chair to be articulate, decisive, and in total control of board meetings at all times. The role of the board chair is to make sure that the agenda fits the meeting and that the meeting runs smoothly. This includes making sure, ahead of time, that board members come to meetings prepared and that they take their role, as board member, very seriously. The chair is also expected to have completed the necessary preparations for addressing the big issues of the meeting and has the skill to engage every member in the discussion. This may include taming the “wild ones” or encouraging the "quiet ones." The chair facilitates the proceedings, discussions, and is very careful to guard each person’s dignity should a debate arise. This skill demands a basic understanding of parliamentary procedure, even if the board does not always adhere to this structure strictly.
The chair’s primary function is to ensure that the objectives of the agenda are achieved. The chair is a master of flexibility and a great judge of whether discussion should continue or if it is best to keep to the schedule and send complex issues to committee for further study. In the event that all of the information has been presented and discussed the chair must be able to decide when it is time to vote. Or, if it is impossible to reach a consensus, the chair must decide to table an issue until additional data becomes available. In this case, the chair’s decisiveness and good judgment allows the meeting to proceed.
In conclusion, board meetings can be more productive if the board chair followed some basic principles:
• Own the agenda
• Get to know the personal attributes of individual board members
• Explain the personal philosophy of how meetings will be run
• Engage every board member during board meetings
• Control the domineering characters and bring the best out of difficult colleagues
• Remain objective and fair
• Become familiar with parliamentary procedures
• Earn the respect of peers
• Lighten up and use humor in the board room
The board meeting is a continuous cycle that keeps the board chair quite busy. The job of the board chair does not end with the adjournment of the meeting. It involves regular follow-up and planning with the CEO and a special commitment to the other members of the board and the job itself. Please share with me extraordinary stories about your dynamic board chair?