Future Candidates for the Board
Many boards comment that it is hard enough to find anyone to serve on the board, whether appointed or elected, let alone having the luxury of a pool to choose from.
Rather than accept whoever comes along, it behoves a board to actively identify and nurture candidates.
Utilising the governance techniques we have described, some boards have been seen by their membership, to be achieving success and enjoying the process. As a result, it is not uncommon to find up to 5 candidates for one vacancy – ‘they’re successful and having fun and I’d like to be part of it.’
Other boards have adopted the technique of identifying emerging leaders in their membership and inviting those people to a half day workshop with the board to explore strategic direction and opportunities. The stimulation experienced in such a workshop has led to some of these emerging leaders seeking board nomination.
There are many such techniques to dig into the pool of those eligible to fill a board vacancy, or to contest a board position in order to bring new talent and expertise to the board table.
While it is encouraging to have a contest for board positions, it is important also to ensure that those seeking such a position understand both the responsibilities and competencies required to be a member of the board.
Future Candidates for the Chair
Many Constitutions provide for the position of a deputy chair or vice chair, on the expectation that the holder of that role will succeed the Chair. There is a credible body of opinion that suggests such a position is of little value. In truth, there is only one meaningful leadership role on the board and that is the role of chairperson. In most organisations, the role of deputy chairperson rarely has any substance. When the chairperson carries out his or her role as designed, attends and chairs all board meetings, builds a strong working relationship with the chief executive, and fulfils all ceremonial duties there is little left for even the most well informed deputy to do. A well-managed board, stacked with potential leaders should have no need of one designated person to ‘fill in’ in the absence of the chairperson. A simple decision made at the commencement of a meeting as to who is best suited to take over the meeting management role determines who will act as meeting leader when the chairperson is not there.
Some boards use the role of deputy chairperson as an essential stage in the board’s succession planning, being a stepping-stone to the lead role of chairperson. While this may work in some instances, in others it can create problems. The deputy chairperson, in the expectation of automatically becoming the chairperson, might wait several years for the ‘call up’ only to find that the composition of the board has changed, as have its issues and primary concerns.
A decision made in the past in good faith (or because no one else wanted the role) may no longer be relevant because of changed circumstances. The challenges facing the chair may require a different set of talents than those embodied in the heir apparent. That can lead to a certain amount of awkwardness when a board is shackled by the expectation of an automatic step-up and is faced with a deputy chairperson who is not suited to the role he or she is due to inherit.