Managing Board Relations


Share on LinkedIn

Given that many of you have just completed your Q3 board meetings, or are prepping for Q4, I thought it would make sense to address the who, what, when, why, and how of board relations. Over the years I’ve met more than a few CEOs who paid little or no attention to their board of directors, only to find themselves wondering what went wrong as they were being ushered out the door prior to the expiration of their employment agreement. As a CEO, your board can be one of your greatest allies. Conversely, and just as easily, they can be a significant contributor to your undoing resulting in an early and unnecessary demise. In today’s post I’ll deal with a skill set that all successful CEOs excel at…managing board relations.

What’s interesting to me is that of all the constituencies that CEOs must deal with, the relationship with a board of directors is among the easiest to manage. So this begs the question, why do so many CEOs blow it when it comes to managing their board? From my perspective, CEOs who fail in their attempts to coalesce with the board usually do so as a result of being either arrogant or naive. The odd thing is, whether through arrogance or ignorance, the results are often the same. These misguided CEOs often just ignore the board as if they didn’t even exist until they see a board meeting scheduled, or receive an angry phone call or e-mail.

The simple truth of the matter is that savvy CEOs see their board as a strategic asset, and not a liability to be avoided. The following six tips will help you become skilled at managing board relations, which will lessen your burdens, extend your shelf-life, and improve your performance:

  1. Understand the Landscape: Regardless of make up, your board is likely composed of successful and influential people. As such, they make better friends than adversaries. Remember that no one likes to be publicly embarrassed, and that your statements, actions, and overall performance are an indirect reflection on their personal brand and professional reputation. If you inherit your board, seek to build strong relationships as quickly as possible. If you find yourself in the enviable position of being able to select your board, choose wisely. If you find that you have strong opposition that you cannot manage or improve, do everything possible to have them removed/replaced before they do the same to you. Board members have egos, and will go to great lengths to help you if they perceive you respect and value their position. Likewise they will seek to undermine your efforts by creating substantial barriers and obstacles for you if you choose to trivialize them.
  2. Be Proactive: The number one rule of board management is not to hold the meeting at the board meeting. As the CEO, your role in board management is that of fiduciary, lobbyist and evangelist. As such, it would behoove of you to have individual phone calls or meetings with board members in advance of the actual board meeting to seek their input and advice. Use these proactive encounters to flesh out, and seek alignment on, key issues and positions. Never reserve bad news for the actual board meeting, but rather air it out well in advance. If you’re going to get beat-up by your board, it’s better to have it happen in private rather than on center stage where the beating can not only be more severe, but where the results may also be recorded in the minutes. Never attend a board meeting when you don’t know where your board stands on key issues in advance. An unprepared CEO is a CEO who will not endure the test of time.
  3. Display Backbone: Smart CEOs respect their board – that said, they will not allow themselves to be run-over by the board. Don’t go to the mat over insignificant issues. Be willing to compromise where prudent, but you’ll also need to stand your ground and successfully make your case on mission critical issues. CEOs who make a habit of too easily acquiescing to the board have in essence surrendered to the board. They will have lost the respect of the board and will have rendered themselves ineffective as CEO.
  4. Manage the Trickle-down: Remember that what happens in the board room rarely stays in the board room…VC, private equity, or other investor directors leave your board meeting only to make a report on their observations. Non-investor board members will usually discuss the goings on of your board meetings as well. If you conduct yourself professionally, and let your board members be white knights, the down-stream communications that follow your meeting will advance your cause as opposed to undermine it.
  5. The Environment: What should be obvious, but what is often overlooked, is the importance of having your board members look forward to the meeting. In other words, make the meeting meaningful, productive, and if possible enjoyable. If your board members dread attending your meeting, they will be predisposed to show up with a bad attitude. Bad attitudes bring out the worst in people and that is not what you want waiting for you when you arrive at the meeting. Don’t bore your members with meaningless drivel or worthless presentations. Rather be crisp in your delivery and be specific about the issues at hand. Feed them, make them comfortable, insure that they don’t feel that their time was wasted or that they didn’t have the opportunity to be heard – have them leave looking forward to the next meeting.
  6. Set the Chinning Bar High: While rogue CEOs have received most of the media attention in recent history, don’t fool yourself into thinking that rogue board members don’t exist as well. Remember that all board members are obligated to make decisions that are in the best interests of the company. Moreover, personally motivated decisions that speak of self-dealing will eventually come out into public view, and will be dealt with harshly. Make sure that all board members share a commonality of values and vision where possible, and hold them accountable to make decisions in alignment with the fiduciary obligation they assumed when they accepted the board seat.

Please use the comments section below to share any other tips for working more effectively with the board. Thanks in advance…

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mike Myatt
Mike Myatt, is a Top CEO Coach, author of "Leadership Matters...The CEO Survival Manual" and is the Managing Director and Chief Strategy Officer at N2growth. As one of America's top CEO Coaches, Mr. Myatt is a sought after professional advisor known for his savvy, yet straight forward approach to business in serving some of the nation's top CEOs.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here