What Makes a Successful Board Chair? Defining Their Attributes and Transition Preparedness

Viewed in Russell Reynolds Associates

Along with a company’s chief executive officer, the non-executive board chairman may be a company’s single most consequential and important leader.

It is a function that has always been a vital one, and its importance is only growing in present organizational structures. But what characteristics define a successful non-executive board chair?

Management consulting and executive search giant Russell Reynolds both asks this question and provides a compelling number of answers based on their interviews with 40 European chairs conducted this past spring.

Russell Reynolds reports that the characteristics of a successful board chair have evolved considerably from those of years past.

Agility

Based on their interviews, agility now proves essential as companies find themselves needing to adjust quickly to dramatically changing macroeconomic and market conditions.

Humility

The new attributes start with demeanor. While CEOs are quite commonly driven by heavy egos, which can be important to their functional success, this requires the non-executive board chair to provide more humble balancing personal character as balance.

Tandem

Yet, while these two functions may require differing personal traits, the working relationship of the two remains obviously vital. “Chairs should strive to be sufficiently available and engaged with the executive team, but at the same time find the delicate balance between being too remote and being too executive,” Russell Reynolds reports.

Six critical behaviors

Six critical behavioral characteristics and skill sets are needed in the successful non-executive board chair, they say.

The six keys to successful non-executive board chair are: forward-looking thinking, relationship building, inclusivity, resilience, gravitas, and a commercial orientation.

Russell Reynolds relays the findings of how these 40 European chairs view these essential skill sets and why they are increasingly vital in identifying non-executive board chairs who can prove successful in this key organizational function.              

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