Board are funny things. They are comprised of selected individuals (directors, board members) charged with meeting together to consider various matters for the purpose of making decisions. While it is true to say directors meet, decisions are made by the collective whole—the board—not individual directors. Therefore, every decision is unanimous. Complicating matters, boards only 'exist' when directors meet, and board work is, largely, endogenous; so, they need to be coordinated—someone needs to 'drive' the board.
The term 'chairman' (also, 'board chair, 'chair' or sometimes, 'chairperson') is the term used to identify the board member who carries such responsibilities—these being to convene the board’s meetings, ensure duties are discharged, and that steerage and guidance (that is, governance) is effective. But, as all directors are equal in law, the chair's role is exercised through influence, not command in any controlling sense. Given this, how should a board chair, well, chair the board?
While there is no one 'best' way of chairing, the following characteristics are conducive to better outcomes:
Governance is tough because, inter alia, things change, sometimes unexpectedly; boards often need to make decisions without all the information they want; linkages between decisions and outcomes are contingent; and, directors' duties are unbounded.
If boards are to govern with impact, chairs need to be alert: to ensure directors are actively engaged, and that they identify and consider relevant information, think critically and, together, make smart decisions in the best interests of the company. The chairs' priority is to convene the board and its work, and keep directors on track and the organisation safe. For this, a deft hand is needed.
Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and boardcraft; our place in the world; and other topics that catch my attention.