About Ruth Lesirge: an experienced Third Sector CEO and trustee and previously vice- chair for ACEVO. Ruth has been delivering governance and leadership consultancy for over 10 years and is experienced in coaching for CEO’s and chairs, facilitating workshops, and professional development for leaders. More recently Ruth has sat as part of the ACEVO 2013 Governance Commission and co-founded the Association of Chairs, an organisation of which she is a trustee
1. You are founder and Trustee of the Association for Chairs, can you tell us your reasons behind setting up the association?
I have seen ‘charity life’ from both the management perspective as well as from the governance leadership position, having been a CE of two national voluntary organisations as well as a chair and trustee. And since much of my work over the past 12 years has been focused on board effectiveness it is clear to me that there is insufficient acknowledgement that the role of chair as significantly different from that of other board members.
The Association of Chairs has recently completed an initial literature review of which focuses on the role of the chair as discrete from that of other serving trustees; the findings suggest and so far it seems that there is much more work to be done in this area.
However, the generally accepted wisdom is that chairs who do receive adequate support in their roles are likely to become more effective.
What do you see as the most important aspect of a charity chair’s role?
All of the principles enshrined within the Code of Good Governance apply in relation to the work of chairs. But there are additional requirements, including the aspiration that the chair will create a powerful ‘top team’ – working with the CE to support and enhance the effectiveness of the trustees on the board.
All trustees are charged with holding the organisation ‘in trust’ for both current and future beneficiaries and users. Although we can take their commitment to the cause as given, the ambition of any governance leaders must be to optimise the contribution that individual trustees make, so that their skills, knowledge and experience can add value to the work of the board and the organisation.
3. What would you say are the major challenges for chairs in the current climate?
It would be too soon for me to comment on behalf of all chairs. However, it seems clear that although there are likely to be areas of commonality for all chairs, governance leadership task will also be dependent on the organisation’s size, history and where it is in its life cycle.
The Association of Chairs is still very new, but one of our aims is to research and collect the views of chairs, so that we are to better able to understand the challenges they face.
4. What in your experience is the key to a healthy chair & CEO relationship?
Again there is no simple answer to the question and much depends on context. However, there is no doubt that there are structures and processes that can help and support the development of a good working relationship. And we know how significant a contribution strong teamwork by these two leaders can add to the work and effectiveness of the board.
We also know from anecdotal evidence that there are a range of models of team work that are helpful – and that maintaining regular and effective communications is an essential ingredient. In good times and when things are turbulent. So for example, mechanisms such as briefing time before board meetings are often cited as being helpful, not least because they provide an opportunity to anticipate matters issues that may be raised in the meeting.
During my time as a CE, the chair and I followed the mantra of ‘no surprises’; we worked to ensure that as far as possible, we made time to prepare for complex or difficult issues as well as for the challenging opportunities.
The second part of this interview with Ruth Lesirge will be posted tomorrow
ACEVO offer a range of publications on the issue of governance which offer guidance and supporton the relationship between charity CEO’s and their board and how to achieve effective governance. For more information please contact Services Manager Olabisi Porteous on 0207 0144619
About the Association of Chairs: Launched in October 2013 the Association focuses on supporting individuals who are chairing a not for profit organisation; it is committed to enabling best practice in this role as part of improving governance.
To find out more please visit the Association of Chairs www.associationofchairs.org.uk