Tip #35 Qualities of a Successful Board Chair

Posted on: August 1, 2018
Tags: Tips for effective boards

As we have said in the previous Tip for Effective Boards, the board chair is neither the boss of the chief executive nor the boss of the board.  The role of the board chair is to serve the board by ensuring effective and efficient board process in accordance with the board’s expectations of itself with these expectations formalized in board policy.  (See Tip 34:  Is the Board Chair the Boss?)

The description of the following six personal qualities that can enable the board chair to be successful has been adapted from John Carver, the creator of the Policy Governance® model (John Carver “The Unique Double Servant Leadership Role of the Board Chairperson.”  The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.  1999, pp. 18-19.):

Integrity.  The board chair needs to be guided by principles and not by personalities or politics.  He or she needs to act in accordance with his or her own words.  The board chair’s behavior inspires trust by fellow board members. 

A conceptualizer who is flexible and able to focus on the big picture.  Since effective, responsible board governance requires identifying and addressing big picture issues, the board chair needs to have an aptitude for such thinking.

Able to refrain from involvement in operational matters.  While focusing on the big picture, the chair is able to respect the board’s delegation of operational authority to the chief executive and not meddle in operational matters.

Sensitive to interpersonal dynamics and skilled in group process.  Effective management of group process and interpersonal dynamics requires skill.  Seek candidates for board chair who demonstrate such skill and/or invest in development of this skill in future board chairs.

Comfortable with challenging and confronting other board members.  Since the board chair is responsible for ensuring effective board process, there are times when problematic behavior on the part of individual board members or the group may need to be addressed.

Able to lead while serving the board.  The board chair should see himself or herself not as the “boss” of the board, but as a “first among equals” selected by fellow board members to lead the board by serving the board.  The board chair is gracious and modest.  He or she does not push his or her own agenda, but serves the agenda of the board as a whole.


For additional information about the Policy Governance® model, please click https://www.BoardsOnCourse.com/policy-governance



Policy Governance® is the registered service mark of Dr. John Carver. Registration is only to ensure accurate description of the model rather than for financial gain. The model is available free to all with no royalties or license fees for its use. The authoritative website for Policy Governance is www.carvergovernance.com.