5 Pearls of Wisdom on appointing the Chairman of the Board


And why it makes all the difference

The role of Chairman of the Board and its impact on Board performance is often underestimated. Often, the criteria for appointing the Chairman of the Board has nothing to do with the leadership skills required to render the board’s full potential. A wrong choice often results in poor board performance, and, in the worst case scenario, organizational derailment.

As a board member, I’ve experienced stimulating sessions with the right agenda, brief and to the point presentations, productive debate, and clear and actionable decisions aligned with the organizational goals. On the other end, I’ve also experienced frustrating sessions, with a loose agenda, long and boring power point presentations, fruitless and aimless conversation, and ending with a feeling that the most important organizational issues had not been addressed.

In both cases, it was the Chairman of the Board’s leadership that made all the difference. Watching them closely, I came to the conclusion that there are distinct competencies or traits that are common to the most successful Chairmen.

These are the 5 Pearls of Wisdom on appointing the Chairman of the Board.


Will she have the commitment? There is an increasing pressure on Board members to dedicate more hours off-session. The pressure on the Chairman is even higher. On top of the regular sessions and committees, the Chairman must allocate time for scheduled and unscheduled meetings with the CEO and other senior executives. The Chairman must also participate in building internal trust and good investor relations. She often acts as spokesperson, so time is also required for external public appearances.

She will be committed to the role.


Will she be fully engaged in the organization’s strategy, goals, challenges etc.? This is key in setting the boards’ agenda and striking a balance with management, which has a tendency to control what is brought to the attention of the board. An engaged Chairman makes sure that all key issues, opportunities and risks are addressed. She makes sure that all relevant information is distributed in a timely manner to the other board members.

She will be actively engaged.


Will she be a good facilitator? A board can quickly become ineffective or even dysfunctional if the Chairman doesn’t manage the meeting dynamics. Is someone speaking out of turn or not speaking at all? Is more than one conversation taking place at the same time? Is someone being overly critical of management? Going off on a branch with non-relevant topics? A good Chairman takes on the role of facilitator, keeping everyone focused on the agenda and making sure that the time allotted for each item is not overrun.

She will get the work done.


Will she be a good coach for the CEO? The Chairman needs to build a relationship with the CEO based on trust. Only then can the CEO be open to feedback, advice and guidance from the more experienced Chairman. And the Chairman must be willing to respect the boundaries of the CEO’s responsibility and decision making.

She will gently but firmly bring out the best of the CEO’s potential.


Is she an agile learner? Digital transformation is happening now in all industries. Accelerated change must not only be expected but actively pursued at the top of organizational leadership. Learning agility has to be a critical trait of the Chairman, most likely not a digital native. She must be naturally curious, open to paradigm shifts and a risk taker.

She will be able to navigate accelerated change.

Final thought,

It’s time to rethink seniority, close relationships with shareholders or the CEO, networking and influence, as the requisites for an effective Chairman of the Board. It’s time to appoint a Chairman of the Board with the right traits and leadership skills, even if she is a woman, the newest or the youngest member. Your organization’s survival may depend on it.

Mariana Rodriguez Risco

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