There are specific dynamics to every relationship. There are people in your life who make you bristle just by coming into the room. Others make you smile when you think of them. Some share your sense of humor and you often laugh together. You connect to others through a shared experience that was meaningful to both of you. Whether at work, at home, or out in the world around you, relationships are both the best and worst part of our lives.

One of the relationships I am often asked about is that between the board chair and the executive director of a Center or Council. Inevitably when that comes up, the issue has something to do with one or the other either overstepping or failing to fulfill their duties. For that reason we often recommend that the two sit down to sort out their respective roles and responsibilities. Clarifying and agreeing on what each will do should provide the framework for the relationship between the two. However, that is not the only dynamic at work in this important relationship, and in fact sometimes being too rigid in emphasizing this can impair the agility of the organization.

Of course, there can be tension in this relationship because each of the parties is holding the other accountable. The Executive Director works with the Board Chair in the development of the agenda, and in arranging the meeting place, assuring reasonable accommodations for board members, and in identifying potential new board members, for example. Seldom does the volunteer chair take the lead on this and frankly, the Executive Director has business items that must be approved by the board, so has a stake in that agenda.

In some recent reading I came across an article* that identified some other dynamics that impact the Board Chair/Executive Director relationship.

  • Facts-sharing. The study found that keeping each other informed, with or without actually having a conversation, was the most basic of the interpersonal interactions.
  • Ideas-sharing. brainstorming, problem solving or thinking things through together strengthens the bond. Quick exchange or longer discussion, this two way sharing strengthens the dynamic between the parties.
  • Knowledge-sharing. When either of the two provides learning or coaching for the other it strengthens this work relationship.
  • Feelings-sharing. Support, reassurance, caring and appreciation are types of feeling sharing that strengthens this bond.
  • Give-and-take. When each is willing to adjust to the other person’s style, whether the ED is adjusting to a new Chair or the Chair to a new role, then these accommodations for each other help them to be aligned in their board work.

And the more of these dynamics the better. The study found that pairs with the strongest trust demonstrated all of these interaction types. In those that demonstrated great relationships, they described energy and synergies in the relationship that catalyzed organization productivity and engagement with the community. Often they were able to leverage the relationships between all the board members and work together to make connections with key people in their community to further their mission.

*Hiland, M. L. (2006). “Board Chair-Executive Director relationships: Are there interpersonal dynamics that contribute to creating social capital in nonprofit organizations?” Fielding Graduate University, Santa Barbara, CA.

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How to have an effective relationship between the Board Chair and the Executive Director

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