Making the step up to become a chair

Making the step up to become a chair

Making the step up!

For many non-executives who have been around the block a few times, it may appeal to become a chair.  Whilst many enjoy the role, it is true that this is not always an obvious move and it simply will not work for many.

There are many reasons that a non-executive director would enjoy the “step up” to that of chair but there are quite a few why this career move would not sit well.  Excuse the pun.  First and foremost, the role of chair is usually quite well defined.  It is a very different role than that of non-executive, despite often being “lumped together” when discussed in a wider context.

To understand the role of chair, we need to investigate what it is a chair actually does and where it sits in the organisation.  Whilst I have written on the topic of who is the most powerful, CEO or Chair, the roles are very different.  The chair leads the board, not the business.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and Chair, META

The role of CEO is – operational and strategic, as well as being seen as the business leader by those outside of the business.  There are times when the two roles are merged (quite notably in high profile roles like Meta in the US and for many years, JD Sports in the UK).

It is true what they say – in good times, a chair should be hardly visible but in times of turbulence, the chair should be highly visible. 

The best chairs I have seen personally are experts at the art of “back-channel diplomacy”.  They are, after all, the person who leads the board as well as chairing meetings and handling squabbles or frustrations will often fall in their remit if it happens to be between two or more board members.

Finally, a chair is a consensus hunter.  And whilst consensus is not always achievable, great chairs are experts at including all board members and actively inviting opinions from around the boardroom table.  Even this is an art in itself, especially if one or more executives or non-executives like to “hold court” (as many do).


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