Paddle Together - the CEO & Chair Relationship in Tough Times
Martin Farrell, Founder and Director, get2thepoint
Last June I went canoeing in Scotland with some mates. There was plenty of white water to navigate and we knew we would be putting ourselves in a risky situation, so we prepared ourselves well for it.
The same applies to the key relationship between CEO and Chair. Yes , when you're gliding down the stream in the sun, this relationship is central to the health of your organisation. When the white water hits, a strong relationship is essential. There are crocs out there, so staying in the boat is smart!
CEO and Chair, two in a boat, should practice paddling together with courage and determination. With spending cuts and uncertainty ahead, now is the time to attend to any cracks in that relationship - otherwise they will become fissures that may mean you'll sink.
If you hear the roar ahead and see plumes of spray. What do you do?
- Start talking and keep talking. Dialogue is at the heart of the leadership relationship. Express yourself with care, knowing that poorly chosen words will be misunderstood and will rock the boat.
- Structure your relationship. In times of chaos and challenge you need familiar structures to hold on to. So fix a regular pattern of contact, whether face to face or on the phone and stick to it. It's Friday 4pm - time for our catch up call. Easy to remember.
- Actively reassure each other. Help each other to be rational by regularly providing the facts. Absence of facts creates a vacuum which fosters fears and fantasies which sap energy.
- Act with practical respect. Of course you will always be respectful, but moments of forgetfulness may be misunderstand when the pressure is on. Coming a few minutes late to a meeting may be barely noticed in times of calm, but will grate when nerves are frayed.
- Actively reflect. Have you got a niggle at the back of your mind? Your Chair used to speak with you about everything and now doesn't. What is this telling you? Ask 'what do I know now, which if I carry on ignoring it, I will find out in a year, or less?'
- Sharpen your procedures Having sloppy credit control is never a good idea but in times of recession is disastrous. An off hand comment by a receptionist will turn clients or funders away - for ever. So sharpen customer care.
- Know that it will end. There are quieter waters downstream. Pace yourself, do whatever you need to do to nourish yourself so you stay the course.
Maybe you think this is a list of things you should be doing in times of calm, not just when there's white water? The answer is 'Yes, exactly'.