The evolution of the board chair

by. Karen Hodgkiss

Les Wallace, Ph.D., president of Signature Resources, Inc., is a noted consultant in the areas of leadership, governance, management and personal success. In a recent interview, Wallace explains the nuances between facilitation and influence, and describes how the successful board chairs of today are different than their predecessors.

Please define what you mean when you talk about influence versus facilitation.
Many board chairs feel their job is to run the show, or exert influence with others. This is an artifact from the days when the chair was the most powerful person on the board. Now we are seeing a movement toward inclusionary boards, the chair’s role is to facilitate more participation from all board members that will contribute to improved decision making.

What’s wrong with the chair “running the show,” as you’ve referred to it?
The dilemma is usually a chair is elected because they are highly respected. CEOs and board members have trust in that individual and want to hear what they have to say. But if the chair offers an opinion first, this often deters others from speaking up, resulting in decisions being made that have not been fully vetted.

It is more effective if the chair guides the discussions so each member has an opportunity to contribute. Once diverse opinions are gathered, the chair can weigh in to point out anything that may have been overlooked. Then they will weave together the differences into consensus. In simple terms, the chair speaks last to temper the power of the position.

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