As a new Board director, the relationships in the Boardroom appear to be relatively straightforward.
As a new Board director, the relationships in the Boardroom appear to be relatively straightforward. In keeping with Governance Theory, everyone at the Board level should be committed to acting in the best interests of the company while balancing the competing interests of the company’s stakeholders. However, within the boundaries of this guiding framework, a whole host of nuanced relationships and shifting power dynamics are contained. And these nuanced relationships extend from the apex of Board decision-making (the Chair) all the way to the least noticed Board meeting attendee (the Board secretary) and all the Executive Directors and Non-executive Directors in between. So, let’s see who’s who in the Boardroom.
The Board Chair is a good place to start since this is the person who sets the tone for the organisation and determines the Board’s culture and modus operandi. Understanding the demeanour, style, and professionalism of the Board Chair will help new Board members to navigate the relationships in the Boardroom. A professional, ethical and collaborative Chair sets the tone for the rest of the Board members and enables them to apply the Governance framework to the best of their abilities. Of course, the converse will apply when an authoritarian, unethical and tardy Chair is in charge – the tone is set for power dynamics, conflict, and unethical behaviour. The Board Chair is therefore a key individual who needs to be skilled in “leading the leaders” and needs to be supported in this role (or reminded of this responsibility when the need arises).
The next most influential Boardroom participant is the CEO, along with any other Executive Directors serving on the Board.
They play a key role as gatekeepers of the critical information about the organisation that the Board is privy to. This role gives them a lot of power and responsibility. As the day-to-day stewards of the company’s operations, the Executive Directors must maintain a fine balancing act of considering both their employer responsibilities in relation to their staff and their individual employee status in reporting to the Board. In addition, they represent the Management Team, which has its own combination of interests and strong personalities to contend with.
It requires a mature individual with a high degree of self-awareness and exceptional people skills to fulfil this role. An unskilled, immature individual in this power position will inevitably create havoc and serve to exacerbate any underlying tensions in the organisation. It’s important to be alert to any warning signs of such behaviour, and not to be unduly influenced by the charisma and (misplaced) confidence of the individual concerned. Also, knowing the personal characteristics and emotional maturity of the CEO is an essential barometer for understanding the ethos, ethics, culture and maturity of the organisation itself.