Recently, I have been asked for my views about the Chairman of the Board’s role in a company. Of course, there are many different ways to articulate daily operations with the vision of an organization. I’d like to focus here on the case where there is both a Managing Director and a Chairman of the Board (in France : un directeur général et un président du Directoire ou du Conseil d’Administration).
To me, there are 4 main roles for that person :
- To ensure to all the stakeholders (shareholders, of course, but also clients, employees, suppliers and the whole community) that the company is driven by a clear and shared project. To me, such a project has to be built around a stand that the company takes : “This is why we are here !”. It means that there is a continuous process of designing, implementing, monitoring and adjusting this project. The larger the participation in this process, the more power gets the project. In this, he or she is a shepherd.
- To help the top management team focus and stay on track. In day to day work, any manager needs an authentic “thinking partner” to distinguish the essential from the important, to discern opportunities instead of being only driven by problems as they occur, etc. Such a support includes priorities, milestones and metrics – all consistent with the stand that has been taken. But it also requires that the Chairman nourishes everyday and in each interaction with top management the living values of the company. This role looks like a sports team coach.
- To harness the diversity of the Board, in a spirit of deep dialogue. “If two persons always think alike, one of them is useless” says the wisdom. Usual Board meetings can too often fall into either politeness – avoiding tough questions – or debate that is not really superior to a download of opinions. Only a disciplined practice of dialogue can allow creativity and greater meaning to emerge. Board meetings should be places where performance, learning and enjoyment reinforce each others. Here the Chairman is like a gardener.
- To model in all external relationships what the company is and wants to be. It means that in meetings, in public speeches, the Chairman of the Board has to be a voice that facilitate the work of everyone in the company. This can mean opening opportunities, but, at the end of the day, it relates to a way of being, that (again) is consistent with the organization’s stand. The Chairman is a spokesperson.
All these roles refer to one important word : authority. Reminding the etymological roots of that word in Latin (augere), authority has to do with growth. Growth of the company, of course. But also growth of the people. In that respect, we can say that authority means allowing people to become authors. This is the essence of leadership. Great Chairmen of the Board are necessarily great leaders. As Lao Tsu put it centuries ago : “The wicked leader is he who the people despise. The good leader is he who the people revere. The great leader is he who the people say, ‘We did it ourselves'”
PS : I take advantage of this post to mention that my review of Isaac Getz & Brian M. Carney’s book “Freedom, inc.” has been published this month in French management review Enjeux-Les Echos. You can find it here.