The Board and CSO Relationship

Glenn Tecker

Various boards handle meeting without the Chief Staff Officer (CSO) differently. We believe, with the exception of contract negotiations, an association board should not meet without the CSO. And yes, we include performance appraisal in the “let’s do it together” list.

This can be a challenge for some association board members. The relationship strategy between the board and the CSO is often driven by the culture of the members’ workplace and the mental models they bring from other experiences. Those expectations may or may not fit the unique dynamics of an association.

We also do not think that CSOs should be a voting member of the board. Executives as voting members of a board is a for-profit corporate model. It does not work well in an association. The first time an association CSO casts a vote on a controversial issue that earns a split decision by the Board, they would be well advised to make sure their resume is up to date.

For controversial or mega-issues the association is facing, the role of the staff is to ensure the board has the background information, choices, and the advantages and disadvantages of those choices. Providing the board with this information allows them to make a knowledge-based decision. Requiring the CSO to “take a side” is not the same as presenting choices, discussing their pros and cons, or making a recommendation when appropriate.

There might be exceptions with large company trade association boards which sometimes prefer a “review & ratify” (maximum control/minimum involvement) role. They just want to say “yes or no” to whatever the CSO proposes. We’ve seen this role preference include the CSO as a voting member of the Board. We’ve also seen the same ultimate result with the pace at which termination occurs the only real variable.

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About the Author

Glenn Tecker

Glenn is a Principal Consultant, Chairman and Co-CEO of Tecker International. He has served in an executive capacity with business, public agencies, and non-profit organizations. Glenn is widely acknowledged as one of the world's foremost experts on leadership and strategy.