The best organizations steer away from the extremes of either having only the management or the board driving the life of the organization. Leadership at its best is always an amalgamation of the leaders from both board and management. It is therefore of paramount importance that every organization learns the choreography that enables the collective leadership to drive its mission and vision. It is the responsibility of the board chairman and the CEO to exemplify to the rest of their respective colleagues how this dance works.
I have come to understand that the foremost priority for this harmony of leadership is alignment of purpose and vision. There has to be a shared idea of what the organization ought to be about as well as congruence of what the future promises. Iterations of candid debate and discussion can clarify intent as well as help shape collective decision on what is the raison d'être.
The second most important discipline is to define and observe boundaries. Mutual respect is the sealant of such boundaries. The common temptation for board members to get into the executive space to interfere with day-to-day operational affairs must be resisted and any errant board member must be taken to task by the chairman. The management team must make the effort to keep the board informed and involved in major decisions affecting strategy and resources. An effective board will have members who prefer to be consulted if in doubt about whether the board needs to be involved in any matter.
Communication between management and board has to be lavish and intentional. Keeping one another in the loop of ongoing discussion and thinking is crucial to building mutual trust. Leaders ought not underestimate the value of informal communication; frequent casual chats over drinks to share thoughts and ideas outside of formal scheduled meetings fill knowledge gaps to prevent misunderstanding.
The element of development is often overlooked. The board should constantly look out for opportunities for senior executives to acquire new ideas, knowledge and experiences. As and when appropriate, the management should also recommend development opportunities to some of the board members to enhance their abilities.
Finally, I have learned that the quality of our discourse is dependent on the degree of mutual liking and respect. While there are constantly serious and important matters to handle, it must not be at the expense of the privilege to enjoy one another's friendship and company.
The beauty of the board dancing well with the management is a deeply satisfying phenomenon. The diversity of the type of leaders on both sides is obviously challenging to brokering peaceable and effective collaboration. However, when the fundamental disciplines - alignment, boundaries, communication, development and enjoyment - are practised, it is a tremendous joy to be part of such a powerful leadership.