I was recently elected chair of an association board. Our CEO is an expert in the field, brilliant with program ideas, and very committed. Unfortunately, he doesn’t act like a leader. How can I try to help him without coming across as pushy or intrusive?
You are wise to consider boundaries when offering support to the CEO. If you fail to toe the line between the board’s governance role and the CEO’s managerial authority, you may find yourself in an unwelcome struggle about who’s responsible for what. Make sure you restrict your guidance to the board-appropriate issue of leadership.
Planning and evaluation are ideal opportunities to educate people about improving their performance. In negotiating annual goals with the CEO, focus on the board’s leadership expectations. Ask him to include his vision and tie his goals directly to it. Ask him how he will develop staff and volunteers, how he will test his communication for effectiveness, how he will prioritize his efforts—whatever aspect of his leadership you’re looking to strengthen. Privately, you might offer to work with the CEO on developing these goals. “You can always use me as a sounding board” is a neutral way to set up a teaching situation.
Once goals are set, use interim evaluations as education tools. Wherever you criticize, make recommendations for how to improve. And monitor behavior.
Leadership can be cultivated, but it can’t be forced. If your CEO cannot lead, act in the interest of the association, and hire very carefully next time.
Published in Associations Now, Game Plan, March 2007