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Board and CEO Strained Relationships

governance transition Feb 08, 2022

- By Jane Halford 

The pandemic has been hard on all of us and our organizations. In addition to keeping safe and surviving, the strain between CEOs and their boards is starting to show. If that’s true for your situation, the starting point is acknowledging that it’s happened and making a plan to rebuild rapport and trust.  

Praise – Your CEO has been a crisis time leader for two years, something they weren’t trained for, particularly without any mentors or courses to help them understand how to lead at this complex and risky time.

If your organization is still operating and the CEO is still there, they must have done some things right.

Has your board acknowledged the CEO’s contribution to navigating the pandemic? If not, what could be highlighted and how? Start now by adding comments during board meetings or sending emails expressing your appreciation providing specific examples of what they have done well. 

Partner – Sometimes, relationships can be reset by working together on new projects. Is there a board priority that could be elevated on your to do list to create this opportunity?

Many organizations are starting to revisit strategy, explore the organization’s role in ESG, or continue their shared learning journey about Reconciliation.

Where can your board partner with the CEO on a new initiative? 

Performance Manage – For some organizations, your CEO needs enhancement of specific skills to perform well in their role. If your CEO needs training, how can the board support that in the months ahead? Have the courage to speak openly about potential options. Does that mean finding executive coaching, programs, courses, or a mentor for them? The board members do not need to do that work themselves, but they do have an important role to encourage, financially support, and oversee the CEOs growth. 

Part Ways – Is it time for your CEO to wrap up their tenure? It may be that the board determines that the CEO the organization needs for its next chapter is a different mix of Knowledge, Attitudes, Skills, and Habits than the current CEO. You may also discover that your CEO is ready to leave. Every CEO is exhausted after this pandemic and more will choose to take a break or a new role in order to restore their energy.  

It may still be too early to know the future of your board and CEO’s relationship. At the very least, ensure one of your board committees (e.g., Human Resources, Executive) have this high on their agenda. Their work should focus on being ready for a CEO departure (planned or unplanned) and being proactive to open the communication channels between the board and CEO in new ways.  

The bottom line is that your CEO and your board members are just human. We’re all stressed and some of us are burned out. Keep moving forward with compassion and a solution-minded approach. Many relationships can come out of this pandemic repaired. 


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