Monday, February 4, 2013

“Relationship between the CEO and Chairperson – an opportunity to redefine boundaries and have a courageous conversation”

A coaching client of mine who works as the CEO of a medium sized not for profit came to me with a dilemma. He had been in the role for 12 months and said he was having ‘Boundary Management Problems’ with the Chairperson. His core concern was working out how to stop the Chairperson “wandering through the organisation and offering ‘dubious comments’ about the operations and the CEO to staff”. The CEO wants to preserve their relationship, but set clearer boundaries between the governance (Board) and operations (CEO) of the organisation.
As many small NFPs appreciate, often the Board is the ‘early executive team’ of an organisation, this can be because they were the founders or there are limited staff to undertake all the roles and responsibilities required to build the organisation. So when an organisation grows and professional managers are appointed, a change management strategy needs to be developed and implemented.
In this coaching conversation we were dealing with a CEO who was trying get a balance of the board maintaining the appropriate level of involvement, commitment and passion for the work of the organisation, without venturing over into management space and interfering in operations, or conversely, being too removed or passive. In working towards this balance, the CEO needed to have a courageous conversation about the Chairperson’s behaviours. The CEO knew the relationship between him and the Chairperson, and the management of boundaries, is critical if the organisation is to deliver on their mission and achieve their objectives.
Let’s look at what is central to this dilemma, “Relationships and Conversations”. Echeverria stated that a relationship is defined by a ‘space of mutual concerns’. We exist for each other because we assess (our opinion or judgment) that we can each act in ways that take care of our concerns. Relationships create an important element of our existence and provide the context in which our lives become meaningful. Paradoxically, relationships can also be our greatest source of suffering. The quality of your life, your sense of purpose, satisfaction achievement and fulfillment occurs in the context of your network of relationships. Your identity is shaped by who you relate to, how you relate to others and how others relate to you. A central component of being recognised for who you are, which includes what you do, occurs within relationships.
Conversations build relationships and the following questions helped as a first step in the CEO having a ‘Courageous Conversation’ that sought to maintain and further develop their relationship: • How are my concerns (what’s important for me) being taken care of or not? • How is my sense of being a legitimate person (worthwhile, valuable) impacted in this relationship? • How am I considering the concerns (what’s important for the other) in this relationship? • How am I contributing to or diminishing the legitimacy of the other person in our relationship?
In addition to developing clarity about his concerns, I suggested the use of the following Four-part Nonviolent Communication process developed by Marshall B. Rosenberg, which enabled the CEO to have the conversation and shift the boundaries • Centre yourself (including observing yourself) • Disclose your truth to the other • Listen to the truth of the other • Make agreements
I invite you to use this process when you need to have a courageous conversation and if you need a conversation beforehand, contact me at

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