Ed Vick, chairman of mega ad agency Young & Rubicam, offers some firsthand advice for what makes a successful board chairman.
"Being the board's leader and being perceived as the leader are two different things," Vick says. "The board is typically made up of very successful people, so they want to know that if you're chair, you're going to show leadership." Vick sees leading a board as having its "tough love" aspects. "A board is like a high-powered family. In one way, they don't want to be told what to do, but in another, they do. If it's a good board, they want to see that the chair is in control."
We can't say it too often - communicate with the board. "The head of the board must be a good communicator, able to clearly express to directors where he wants the company to go, to be persuasive and able to get them on board," Vick says. "But you also need active listening skills and the ability to have an honest dialogue."
But Vick cautions, "The board meeting should have no surprises, even good ones. If I surprise the board members, it says that I wasn't communicating with them ahead of time, or worse, I as the CEO was taken by surprise. You should have the nuts and bolts well buttoned up in advance and communicate them to the board ahead of time." [ Editor's note: A seasoned CEO once told me that knowing you'll win a board vote in advance isn't enough - you need to be able to predict the exact vote, or you're out of touch.]
As you should gather from the above, "80% to 90% of the chairman's role happens outside board meetings. It's a poor chairman who tries to make everything happen inside the meeting room."