Support at Any Cost?
Question: Some of our Board members are criticizing our Executive Director far too much. He has barely completed his first year, and already there is criticism for the major changes he has made. Can you help me with some reasons to give our Board as to why they should follow the leadership of the Executive Director we have chosen?
Answer: I most certainly agree that your Executive Director needs your Board’s support. An Executive Director (or whatever title you give to your Chief Executive Officer) can only function with the authority that comes from the Board. The Board that has chosen the CEO must provide him with the authorization and resources he needs to fulfill the demanding role of leadership.
The difficult challenge for any board, however, is to define what support is.
I have no idea whether your Executive Director is making changes that will enable you to find that delicate balance between productivity and staff fulfillment, or whether you made an awful mistake in your choice. So my answer is not directed to your situation specifically. Rather, it is designed to enable you to make that decision yourselves.
Support for your Executive Director means holding him accountable for his use of the authority and responsibility you have given him. Yes, it is true that your Board must take some risks in giving your Executive Director time to make the changes required to find that delicate balance. On the other hand, if your CEO is abusing power or acting in a way that puts productivity over staff fulfillment to the harm of staff morale, then you have the responsibility to determine that.
Accountability is the key. I have seen boards wait far too long to deal with the mistake they made in the choice of a CEO. I can think of one case where the organization that the Executive Director took over has split into three organizations. And still the Board that hired him is supporting him. All three organizations are struggling and still there is no measurement of the quality of the leadership he is providing.
There is a point where a Board can no longer support its leader without measurement of that leadership. That point is at the beginning.
Accountability is measurement. It is not meaningless praise. It is not forgiveness (although forgiveness is vital). And it is not unfair criticism and discipline. It consists of negotiating expectations in the form of strategic goals and monitoring performance within the limitations of the authority that has been delegated. The systematic monitoring or progress and measurement of results must be based on affirmation, involvement and the board’s own servant leadership. Without those three core values, the likelihood is that the accountability will be too soft or too harsh.
Yes, your Executive Director must have your support, but consider the possibility that the support you owe him might come in the form of tough love, too.
I must say that it does sound from your brief question that there is the possibility that you might help your Executive Director in his second year by clarifying the limits of his authority and the expectations you have of his responsibility. Against that clearly defined working relationship your accountability will be clear and fair.
You might also want to read an earlier article entitled “Accountability – the Gift We Fail to Give.” For a little more insight into the question you are asking.