Tuesday 20 November 2012

Grip and Thrust; the role of Chairs!

My main job is obviously as a Chief Executive! However I am also a non executive Chair of the Social Investment Business Group and Chair of its Charity, the Adventure Capital Fund; now the largest social investor in the UK. So, I guess I have an interesting perspective on the 2 roles; one an executive one, the other non executive. I thought I'd commit some of this to paper - well at least to a Blog.

How does the Chair role go?

I'd sum it up as " grip and thrust", a term I owe to Headhunter guru David Fielding.

"Grip". A chair is a non exec role and I am clear that the CEO runs the business. So they manage and lead the staff, ensure financial sustainability, propose, then implement strategic direction, work with a non exec Board.

But the key relationship is the Chair - CEO. And there is no one model. I think you need to be slightly laid back as a Chair but you can't be so laid back you just only ever say " yes Chief Executive". Sometime you need a grip. That might be along the lines of; well your decision but if I were you...", or a friendly warning and occasional metaphorical slap on wrist.

"Thrust". The key role as far as I'm concerned. Strategic direction. Stakeholder engagement. Using networks and influence to promote the organisation. Opening (or pushing open) doors. Being an Ambassador and spokesperson. Looking for the trends and influences that will affect the organisations growth.
The reality is that the balance between the 2 roles differs between individuals. There is no set recipe. The partnership between the 2 people is going to determine how it works.

In my ACEVO work I see very different interpretations that are based on the skills and personalities of individuals. But core is that you "get on" and getting on involves a shared understanding of the role each wants to play. So some Chairs do not want to do a lot of the networking and media, others do. And it's pretty important that skills to do the particular role is taken into account! If you have a Chair who has big contacts in business and not use them, or a CEO who has a stunning media presence and not use that.

But one thing puzzles me. We have a professional body that supports CEOs; ACEVO, but no body that supports Chairs. However that may be changing. Ruth Lesirge, who some years back was my very first Vice Chair at ACEVO and who now works at CASS Business School, is hoping to establish such a body; a Chairs Institute. I want ACEVO to be strongly linked. Good luck to Ruth!

And finally, if you're not already booked on to ACEVO's annual conference (link to http://www.acevoannualconference.org.uk/). It's open to (and indeed reduced rates for) CEOs to come along with their chairs, and the focus is on the relationship between the two. In other words, the gripping and thrusting event of the year (plus some great speakers of course...).


Roy Norris said...

Chairs are the politicians. They are here today and gone tomorrow or they should be, at the most 5 years is a good term. The Chief Exec to paraphrase Yes Minster, is the permanent opposition.

That's why an organisation for Chairs is not a "Good Thing". An ossification of both Chief Exec and the Chair would be disastrous leading to collusion, fraud, reluctant by newer Trustees to challenge a long standing duopoly.18

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