How To Make It Work With Your Chair: A CEO View

by Janet Tuohy 27/03/2017

Spinning out from the safety of the Local Authority to the scary world of independence throws up many challenges. Everything is the same, but different. Relationships change; job roles can appear overnight, and you have a new enthusiastic board and Chair to contend with. The rules change.

The hierarchy of Local Government can mean that you are excluded from some senior level meetings. You may therefore feel like a complete novice, and a little too timid to effectively manage this vital relationship. There is a balance you need to strike. This needs to start with the outlining of boundaries.

The Chair is not there to do the CEO’s job; they are not there to pass every decision the CEO is paid for. After all, if you have reached the dizzying heights of CEO it stands to reason you have probably got 25 years plus experience with the Local Authority under your belt, so most issues you have dealt with before.

The Chair is there to support, encourage, mentor, guide and advise. They should challenge and question, suggest and explore. They are definitely not there to obstruct or oppose. The relationship has to be built on trust, and the Chair must bring value to the organisation and to you. They need to ‘get’ what the organisation is about; its values culture, strategy and purpose. A tall order you may think?

The relationship I have with my Chair is based on mutual respect, and I am more confident as a result of the role definitions and clean boundaries. I feel supported yet observed, and I am in no doubt that I will be reminded if I go too far off plan. Mostly, I feel I’m undergoing a development programme in a learning environment. 

My Chair is reflective and considers our business, and is also learning about our very specialist areas of health and social care.  She takes on the responsibility of our Non-Executive Directors, ensuring their participation and effective contribution to the sub committees; evaluating their performance as well as mine.

Her experience adds value and her connections move us into networks of both growth and support. I feel I can call on her for advice and choose to take it, or not. She is a sounding board, and a fierce ally. The relationship helps to create a shared vision for everyone in the company.

Choose your Chair carefully. Ask people for their honest opinion, and interview with your board or out-going chair. This will hopefully be a long relationship so it must be someone you get on with, and can work with. For me it is so far so good. But it takes time and investment to get it right. 


Janet Tuohy is the CEO from Aspire for Intelligent Care and Support

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