As many boardroom leaders know from experience, achieving that “healthy tension” in the boardroom—where the board is advising the CEO and management team while maintaining objectivity, independence, and skepticism—isn’t easy. It’s also clear that striking that critical balance will only become more challenging and more important given the mounting complexity of the business environment and the tremendous pressure on boards and CEOs to deliver results.
Rapid technological change and business model disruption, COVID-19 and threat of a deep recession, geopolitical uncertainty, and investor demands to hold CEOs and boards more accountable for performance all place possible strains on the board/CEO relationship. As the authors of “The CEO Life Cycle” note, this intensifying external pressure “raises the odds of adversarial dynamics between CEOs and directors, leaving many CEOs feeling unsupported and misunderstood.”1
As our interviews made clear, the pressures on the CEO and board are likely to intensify—particularly with COVID-19 and a recession complicating an already challenging business environment—making a healthy relationship between the board and CEO even more important. Emphasizing the importance of working with the CEO and the board to develop and maintain a healthy board/CEO relationship, the lead directors we spoke with collectively highlighted key areas of focus for lead directors in their efforts to foster such a relationship:
1 James M. Citrin, Claudius A. Hildebrand, and Robert J. Stark, “The CEO Life Cycle,” Harvard Business Review, November–December 2019.
Explore critical boardroom challenges and priorities through the Lead Director / Independent Chair lens.