The Board of Directors is a primary stakeholder group for any CEO. When CEOs enjoy strong relationships with their Boards and individual Board members, they can generally make swifter progress. On the other hand, when relationships between CEOs and their Boards become strained, CEOs find all kinds of roadblocks cropping up.

It came as no surprise that CEOs in our study reported spending significant time and energy preparing to interact with their Boards. One CEO told us that for the first six to nine months of his tenure, he and his wife traveled to the home city of each Director for one-on-one meetings, in some cases spending the entire weekend in the Director’s company. Another told us that he spent at least a quarter of his time managing relationships with the Board.

From our many interviews, we’ve gleaned a “top ten list” of actions to take to get your relationship with the Board off to a great start:

  • When you enter your CEO job, think carefully about the kind of relationship you’d like to have with the Board and its individual members.
  • Prepare a “plan” for your relationship with the Board and with each individual board member.
  • In addition to scheduling time with each Board member, meet privately with the Chairman to discuss how you will handle your new role and your Board responsibilities. 
  • Make a special effort to stay in sync with the Chairman prior to and following each Board meeting. Likewise, contact each Board member prior to meetings to discuss the agenda topics, debriefing after the Board meeting concludes.
  • Create opportunities for your direct reports to develop their own relationships with the Board. This should happen through face-to-face interaction—not only formal presentations, but also dialogues and casual conversation on selected topics.
  • Pay attention to Board dynamics. Are Directors coming to meetings prepared? Have they performed their committee work? Are they complaining about one another privately? Are any of them trying to give you direction without consulting the other Board members?
  • If the Board is working well, let the Board members know that and express your appreciation. If not, come up with a plan to confront the issues, possibly looking to the Chairman, a Director, or a Board consultant for help.
  • Don’t always expect everyone to agree. You all are experienced players, and disagreement can often force a productive conversation about the pros and cons of specific courses of action.
  • At the same time, don’t let disagreement get out of hand. If differences emerge that are repeated or unbridgeable, the personnel might have to change. Either you or one or more of the directors might not be well suited to your role(s).
  • Be prepared for turnover on the Board during your tenure. Who might you select for future Board positions? Start to form a picture of this in your mind early on.

The CEOs in our study were clear: It’s much harder to excel if you manage only a poor relationship with your Board. Put in the time and energy required to establish mutual respect, to build consensus, and to achieve fluid communication. In our study, CEOs that set up a positive relationship dynamic with their Boards felt well supported in their jobs. The Board was an asset, a source of strength for both them and the company. “I view the Board as my kitchen cabinet,” one remarked. What leader wouldn’t want that?

More on the CEO study can be found in the book Preparing CEOs For Success “What I Wish I Knew”. For more information, visit the CLG Bookstore.

And, for more information about CLG Executive Advisors and the support they provide to CEOs, c-suite executives, and high potentials on issues such as leadership, strategy execution, succession, new leader transition, change implementation, and teamwork among senior teams visit the CLG Executive Advisor section of the website.