Senior Affiliate Professor of Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise
The majority of board chairs are former CEOs, who are used to calling the shots and being stars. So it’s no surprise that many start behaving as if they are alternative chief executives of their firms. That sows conflict and confusion at the top.In addition, as research by INSEAD’s Corporate Governance Centre shows, the two jobs are distinctly different—and so are the skills needed in them. The chair leads the board, not the company, and that means being a facilitator of effective group discussions, not a team commander.After surveying 200 board chairs and interviewing 140 chairs, directors, shareholders, and CEOs, INSEAD has distilled the requirements for the chair’s role down to eight principles: (1) Be the guide on the side; show restraint and leave room for others. (2) Practice teaming—not team building. (3) Own the prep work; a big part of the job is preparing the board’s agenda and briefings. (4) Take committees seriously; most of the board’s work is done in them. (5) Remain impartial. (6) Measure the board’s effectiveness by its inputs, not its outputs. (7) Don’t be the CEO’s boss. (8) Be a representative with shareholders, not a player.While many executives need to shift gears and mindsets to follow these, successful chairs say the effort pays off.