CEO Coach Glenn Gow on building better board relationships

Surfboard team

Published on Dec 14, 2023

As a CEO coach, Glenn Gow is no stranger to navigating complex dynamics, particularly between CEOs and their boards. It can be a notoriously challenging dynamic with many potential sources of frustration. But the good news is that by following just a few simple practices, CEOs can completely transform their relationship with their board for the better.

Drawing on his experience as a CEO coach, board member, and former founder & CEO, Glenn shared his top advice for how founders and CEOs can get more from their boards. Here’s what we learned:

See your board members as individuals

Some CEOs think of “the board” as an independent entity they have to have a relationship with. But in reality, your board is made up of complex individuals who each have different perspectives and priorities. That means to foster a good relationship with your board, you have to foster good relationships with your board members. For each member of your board, ask yourself what’s important to them? How could they add value? How can I best engage with them, specifically? While it may take a bit more time, you’ll end up with much stronger relationships in the end.

Never surprise your board

Lots of CEOs make the mistake of putting off uncomfortable conversations, but this can make your board members feel out of the loop, which undermines their ability to trust you. When sharing bad news, there are two main practices to follow: share news as soon as possible and provide a solution. This makes sure your board understands what is currently happening and has a clear idea of what you’re doing to address the challenge.

Be thoughtful about what you put in the spotlight

Most of the time, your board members will react in accordance with whatever you put in the spotlight. For example, if you highlight something they’re going to be upset about, they’re probably going to be upset. If you highlight something they aren’t able to help with, then they aren’t going to be all that helpful. Be careful about what you put in the spotlight and recognize that what you choose to feature will largely determine how your board members engage.

Differences are assets

Differences among board members shouldn’t be a source of frustration. In fact, they can be one of your most powerful assets. The key is to avoid pretending like those differences don’t exist. Instead, bring your differences out into the open and consider how you might leverage each members perspective and skillset to be more effective.

Trust comes from integrity

Building trust with your board is absolutely crucial to your success. But where, exactly, does that trust come from? It starts with integrity. You should be prepared to deliver on any commitment you make to your board. If you’re not absolutely sure you can deliver, you should be careful about the commitments you make and clearly communicate why you may not be willing to commit to a board member’s request. This ensures alignment between what you say and what you do, and over time, that’s a powerful way to cultivate trust.

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