The Making of an Esteemed Board Chair

This was a fascinating session from the recent virtual ASAE Annual Meeting.

The discussion was led by Tom Dolan and Mark Engle, both longtime association executive CEO’s.
They started off by identifying the characteristics of three problem chairs:
  1. Power Grab Board Chair – be careful, they will go rogue on you.
  2. Entitled Board Chair – they spend the chamber’s money, at the best restaurant, expensive venue for the board retreat, and they think they can push things through when the board has already voted it down in the past.
  3. Speaker for Life Board Chair – they stay around and continue to insert themselves in board activities.
After that discussion, they delved into the ways you can have an esteemed board chair.
  • Minimize the level of disfunction.
  • Keep the board at the theory level.
  • Build a partnership between you and Board Chair.
They talked about the role of the CEO and how they need to bring the board chair along on major issues the organization may be facing.  If there is bad news, you need to let the board chair hear it from you and not from someone else.  I call this the “no surprises” please rule of management, at any level.
They went on to give tips on how to build a relationship with your new board chair:
  • Find out how your board chair wants to communicate with you?
  • Go over the issues and policies facing the chamber on a regular basis.
  • Remind them of the role between the chairman and staff.  Let them know that 90 percent of staff time is to keep the doors open.
  • Have dinner the night before the board meeting to go over any last-minute items.
  • And don’t forget to meet with the new chair-elect as soon as possible.  Begin by establishing open communications with your chair-elect.  They’ll be your chairman in a year!
At the end of the day, build a relationship with your board chair and make sure there are no surprises by communicating with them on a regular basis.  And remember, communicate with them the way they want to have those communications.
A final nugget of information they said, "any board member can become chair."  Be mindful of that and keep track of who would make a good future board chair and who would not!