My favourite quote about the Chair and CEO relationship is that it should be like a pair of chopsticks. One is much more effective with the support of the other.
My Chair is David McGovern, and I know that I am far more effective as a CEO by having his ongoing and continuous support, irrespective of whether we agree or disagree on any particular issue.
David is a senior manager in the public sector, has been married to his husband Darren for a number of years, and considers himself to be a bit of a wag, (that’s wag as in comedian rather than the WaG of a footballer…although!!) In all honesty he is a really funny guy, and I think having a good sense of humour at this particular point in time is a very important quality to have as a Chair of a Board of Trustees.
David is just the sort of Chair an organisation like The Lesbian & Gay Foundation needs with an entrepreneurial CEO like me. He has a very strong leadership style, is an incredibly safe pair of hands, and he is very good at facilitating all sides of a debate, minimising yet not stifling disagreements.
One of his greatest skills is his ability to gently persuade people to change their position or mind on a particular issue and to do it in such a way that the person feels in the end that it was their idea all along, no matter how deep seated their objection or difference of opinion actually was. I have been aware of him doing this time after time, and I still don’t fully know his secret. He has diffused sometimes very emotive situations that I often would probably have further inflamed, and has then moved the debate on, or in a couple of occasions moved the person on, in such a way that everybody ends up a winner. Maybe it’s his year’s, man and boy, working with northern politicians, which has honed this ability? But whatever it is, I can only watch in awe when he exercises this considerable talent.
This of course doesn’t mean that we agree on everything. Far from it, in fact we often have very robust debates and disagree about any number of issues, but usually behind closed doors and mainly in private. We have a very clear rule with each other of no surprises, and we have developed a very healthy trust and respect for each other. We are also extremely clear about our respective roles and responsibilities, having spent a considerable amount of time in the early years of our working relationship clarifying and re-clarifying our respective remits. I would no sooner intrude on David’s governance responsibilities than he would interfere in the day to day running of the organisation. Because of this clarity and mutual understanding, it of course means that we can freely ask and receive advice from each other, and we frequently do this with the aim of creating a synergistic team at the top.
David and I didn’t know each other prior to him joining the Board and very quickly becoming Chair, and I think that this has been useful in helping to develop our respective roles and subsequent working relationship. There is a natural personal chemistry between us, which has developed over the years into a professional friendship. We are both extremely committed to the mission of the LGF, and we have a completely shared and agreed understanding about the future direction we both believe the organisation should take. This again has not been left to chance, and we have spent a considerable amount of time understanding and communicating our respective positions, and developing shared strategic plans in partnership with other board members and stakeholders.
David is a great Chair to have if like me you are a slightly neurotic and paranoid CEO (aren’t we all a bit like that if we are honest?) Time and time again he has stood up for me, protected me (from myself as well as from others), and is always fully supportive irrespective of whether he agrees or disagrees with me. That I think fundamentally is the greatest gift a Chair can give a CEO by fully supporting your back.
Paul Martin is an ACEVO member. To find out more about the Lesbian and Gay Foundation please go to www.lgf.org.uk .
To find out about ACEVO membership go to www.acevo.org.uk/join