It’s OK. The new CEO will fix it

September, 2013

For those of you who attended the first 2013 Mills Oakley Not-for-Profit breakfast seminar in April, you will have met Shirley. Shirley is a not so hypothetical incoming not for profit CEO facing a range of legal, marketing and technology challenges and looking for solutions. In this issue we introduce George, the Chair of the Board, preparing for the incoming CEO…

George is a man to respect. He’s at the top of his career and his role as Chair in an organisation that gives kids a better chance in life is not just a feather in his cap. He is there because he believes that the work the organisation does is unique and vital. He’s proud of its achievements, cares about the staff, and goes out to bat for the organisation at fundraising events, with contacts, money, time and effort. Being on this board is personal and enables him to ‘contribute’ to society in a way that utilises his experience, skills and motivation.

Juggling the demands of a full-size career, family and a board position, let alone a chairmanship is tricky though, and when George stops to think about it, he’d have to admit that the organisation has hit a few speed bumps of late. For one thing, the previous CEO left the organisation a little dysfunctional and their culture a little toxic. They seemed like the right person, and they won some great contracts, but they acted more like a military tank at critical moments, when what was needed was more like a circus unicycle. It’s OK. The new CEO will fix it.

George will give the new CEO the task of creating fundraising and financial sustainability–that item on the board agenda that just keeps sliding because there are too many vested interests, and quite frankly no-one knows what the answer is. And they can deal with those stakeholders with their complex and often competing needs. And make sure the staff feel empowered and become more productive and cohesive. They’ll create a high performing team, and take the organisation to the next level. There’s no question the organisation is ready. The board want to help–they just need to be pointed in the right direction.

The new CEO comes in and they’re everything George and everyone else had hoped for. A real leader. They build solid relationships with the board members, consult with stakeholders and are energetic and positive. All those difficult issues can finally be given to someone to resolve – the COO who had to act up into the CEO position and could derail the whole process if not properly managed; the strategy that was being led by the Board member who should be good at this kind of stuff but isn’t; the fundraising event that saps everyone’s time and energy but rolls on year after year.

George knows it’s important to give the new CEO some KPIs. They’ve only been in the role a few weeks, so it’s not ideal for them to write their own probationary objectives, but he doesn’t have the time or headspace. He’d like to see if they can talk to the Board too about how it could become more effective. I mean, yes, strictly speaking the board’s effectiveness is his role, but maybe they can deliver some of those uncomfortable messages which get Barry, Harry and Jo to realise their time is up. It’s tricky, draining and time consuming work and he knows he isn’t doing anything differently from how he and the Board worked with the last CEO. But maybe this time things will be different…

If this scenario rings some bells or looks like an organisation you know, you’re not alone. People for Purpose works with talented and capable board members like George every day–as well as stand-out CEOs like Shirley.

In our experience, there are three critical things that can be done by a Chair to increase the chances of making a new CEO or senior executive hire successful:

1.     Reflect on what kind of leader you are being for the organisation and how can you become the model of leadership you are hoping for from the new CEO. It’s useful to remember that 70% of an organisation’s culture is driven by leadership, and as Chair your leadership behaviours are a critical part of that culture setting.1

2.     Ask yourself how you can create a good strong working relationship with the new CEO. As respective leaders of the executive and management functions of the organisation, your relationship and the quality of your communication is critical. Set clear and mutual expectations, and early on show that you are genuinely open to feedback.

3.     Consider what support you and the CEO might need, either together or separately, to achieve your potential as individuals and as leaders of your respective teams of board and staff. If you would benefit from a fresh perspective or you need to close a skill, knowledge or capability gap, then ask yourself if it’s really cost effective to drag on without that help.

People for Purpose is a social purpose enterprise that partners with for-purpose organisations to fill leadership positions – including Chairs, Board members, CEOs and senior executives – and then helps those people to achieve their potential. We offer on-boarding and coaching programs for senior positions, helping to make sure the resources invested in bringing good candidates in, deliver the much-hoped for organisational outcomes.

Rachael McLennan |

1 Richard E. Boyatzis, Becoming a resonant leader

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