What's the most basic definition of the board chair's job? To run the board meetings. But this essential of the chair's role can bring many pitfalls for board leadership -- as well as opportunities to assert and use that leadership most effectively. What are some ways the effective board chair can manage the board meeting?

  • Consider this a reason for separating the roles of CEO and board chair. Notice how an executive attains the job of chief executive after a long, strenuous process of proving himself or herself the very best. The role of chairman, however, is a title usually given this CEO as a final coronation. The result -- distinct talent as a board chair -- need not be one of the CEO's strong points. "I was never in favor of combining the positions unless the CEO is not only good, but can run a meeting," says Ron Zall, head of the Corporate Directors' Institute in Denver.
  • Allow freedom of ideas, but keep discipline on meeting flow. "It's bad leadership to put up with unpreparedness or someone repeating an idea over and over," notes Zall. "A strong chairman knows how to run the meeting to keep everyone focused on the issues, without discussions wandering off in every different direction."
  • The meeting agenda is more than just a list on a sheet of paper. "At the beginning of the meeting, announce the ground rules on what's to be discussed. Get the issues out at the beginning too." While the agenda lets you check off what must be covered, this up-front discussion allows the chair to lay out a major unifying theme for the meeting.
  • The chair should lead the meeting by keeping it focused and productive. "Keep the distractions out," says Zall. "Make sure they pay attention to what's going on, not getting to the airport or getting their messages" (consider asking directors to shut off their cell phones). Also, "get the important things on the agenda early. For most of us, attention span fades over a board meeting, and the earlier you bring up a major issue, the more attentive they'll be." As part of this, plan wisely for items after the lunch break. A long slide presentation will likely elicit a few snores from around the table.

Copyright © 2000 Ralph Ward's Boardroom INSIDER