The relationship between Board and Chief Executive is one which demands mutual respect if it is to enable the full energy and intellectual capacity of the organisation to be harnessed. David Fishel explains how this can be achieved.
The relationship between Board and Chief Executive is a negotiation. Successful negotiators do not enter the conference chamber without considering the other party?s needs and perceptions, as well as their own. The Board that is concerned to develop an effective relationship with the CEO needs to start with consideration of the CEO?s complex and demanding role. And the CEO (whether Artistic Director or General Manager) needs to be equally aware of the Board?s perspective.
A diverse role
The effective arts CEO will be concerned with most or all of the following issues:
1 Positioning the organisation, setting its direction, and developing a strategy to achieve the greatest long-term effectiveness
2 Forming alliances and coalitions with other organisations and constituencies
3 Hiring, developing, and motivating effective staff
4 Raising the programme quality or improving the level of leadership, management, and community impact of the programme
5 Designing or ensuring the proper internal infrastructure ? that is, effective organisations and processes ? to ensure the cost effectiveness of operations
6 Increasing the funds available for annual operations
7 Maintaining excellent relations with important outside constituencies
8 Playing a role in the development of an appropriate Board and, with the Chair, employing Board members effectively to achieve the organisation?s mission.
In the case of many cultural organisations, the CEO will also be the Artistic Director ? and judged first by their ability to deliver high quality work on-stage or in the gallery, and then by the preceding list of other leadership responsibilities. Small wonder that many cultural organisations opt for a double-headed executive, typically Artistic Director and General Manager, in order to cope with this diverse portfolio.
If some Board members do not appreciate the pressure on the CEO of even a modest-sized arts organisation, many CEOs equally regard the Board as a monkey on their back, and probably one that doesn?t even know how to pass around the tin when the barrel-organ is playing. This perception may be a result of the Board defaulting to its comfort zone of monitoring and controlling (so much easier than actually doing something) in the absence of leadership from the Chair; or it may be a self-fulfilled prophecy on the part of the CEO - if the Board is treated as a burden and not serviced or informed effectively its members are likely to become that much less co-operative and productive.
Reflecting the typical (and sometimes slightly uncomfortable) power-relationship of a professional arts CEO reporting to a volunteer Board, the Board member is motivated most highly when he/she enjoys leadership from the Chair and is respected and supported by the CEO, and when the Board collectively is provided with timely and adequate information to fulfil its obligations and add real value to the organisation?s business. In turn, the CEO is most motivated when the Board seeks to help the CEO achieve and succeed, reinforces the status of the CEO, and respects the CEO?s own leadership role.
Recipe for success
In law, the Board carries ultimate accountability and authority (within limits determined partly by the membership or key stakeholders). But in practice, board and staff know that it is the CEO who carries the can and wields much of the power and authority on a day to day and week by week basis. This gives rise to a number of basic ingredients for success in the board/CEO relationship:
1 Clarity of Board function: the Board must have a common understanding of its own role in the organisation
2 Clarity of CEO role and responsibilities: both Board and CEO need to be clear on the purpose of the CEO?s position, based on discussion and reflected in an up-to-date job description
3 A mutually agreed strategic plan, or at least a set of agreed key objectives for the organisation
4 A recognition of the different frameworks within which Board and CEO operate
5 Appropriate observance of protocol in Board members? dealings with staff (other than the CEO)
6 Fulfilment of the mutual obligations which bind the CEO and Board in common cause
7 Regular communication and co-ordination between Chair and CEO ? somewhere between daily and weekly according to current demands
The Chair-CEO Partnership
The CEO wants support and advice. The Chair wants no surprises. The CEO wants the space to get on with the job. The Chair wants to be associated with a successful organisation. The Chair and CEO do not have to be the best of friends ? in fact, this would create more problems than it would solve ? but if their relationship is confined only to the business of running the Board meetings with little other contact the organisation will be deprived of an important component of the overall leadership mix.
Privately, the Chair and CEO should talk through their needs and aspirations to clarify their expectations of each other, and to ensure there are no (avoidable) areas of overlap or potential conflict. More broadly, the Chair will need to agree with the CEO how they are going to work together. This will include:
? Agreeing the key things we need to achieve in the next year
? Confirming how the Board will interact with and assist the organisation and the CEO. What support and advice does the CEO want? what are the protocols for Board-staff communications?
? Confirming how the CEO will report to the Board, and how the CEO?s performance will be reviewed
? Discussing how Board meetings will be organised and serviced. How are we going to prepare Board agendas? What are the key areas the Board needs to focus upon? What papers will be prepared for Board meetings, and in what format? Who will minute the meetings, and in what level of detail?
? Clarifying the role the CEO has in making the Board effective, including recruitment of future Board members
? Clarifying what information the Chair wants, and does not want
? Confirming who will be the principal external spokesperson for the organisation - specifying what information the Chair wants, and doesn?t want; and considering how the Chair or Board will appraise the work of the CEO, and provide feedback.
Establishing these parameters will not necessarily be accomplished in a single meeting, but may be addressed through a series of discussions between Chair and CEO. If the relationship between Chair and CEO is unfailing sweetness and light, there is probably something wrong. Two capable individuals, both caring about the health and aspirations of the organisation, are very likely to have differences. Where there is not the relative simplicity of bottom-line financial results to establish priorities and many choices face the organisation as to how to allocate resources, it would be surprising if Chair and CEO always agreed. The secret of success is in openness and communication.
Finally, regardless of all the words of advice presented here, the fact remains that there will continue to be CEO/Artistic Directors who consider the job of the Board to be providing (uncritical) support. As with tyranny, it is perfectly possible to operate on this basis, in the short-term. But it fails to harness the full energy and intellectual capacity of the organisation, and is unsustainable in the longer term. The demands and complexities of most arts organisations are too great to be borne on a single pair of shoulders.
And people are not puppets.
David Fishel is co-Director of Positive Solutions, the UK and Australian-based arts consulting firm. This article is based on material from ?Boards That Work?, by David Fishel, to be published early 2003 by the Directory of Social Change. e: email@example.com; w: http://www.positive-solutions.com.au