Book Summary: Get The Most From Your Board

The Board-Savvy CEO:
Building a High-Impact Partnership with Your Board

by Doug Eadie

In The Board-Savvy CEO, longtime nonprofit governance consultant Doug Eadie lays out the why, what, and how of building a high-performing board and a rock-solid relationship between the board and the chief executive. It’s up to you to provide the who and when, but the rewards are a better performing organization, a higher-performing board, and a stronger relationship between the board and CEO.

Eadie dispels the “me-them” stance and static notions many CEOs have about boards. The board-savvy CEO takes an engaged approach toward the goal of board members who are “satisfied owners of the governing work.”

The bulk of the book is devoted to the three roles of the board-savvy CEO:

  • Chief board capacity builder
  • Chief governing process designer
  • Chief governing relationship manager

Eadie proposes any CEO can become board savvy, but he cautions it takes preparation and a dose of courage to take this approach.

In the author’s words, The Board-Savvy CEO is a “survive-and-thrive” handbook for nonprofit CEOs and [CEO aspirants]. [It provides] detailed, practical, thoroughly tested guidance that they can add to their CEO tool kit and put to immediate use in raising their governing IQ and becoming more board savvy. [It’s written for new and] seasoned CEOs who – in the spirit of continuous improvement – want to beef up their board savviness in order to maintain a really solid working relationship with their boards…

This summary is meant to give you an overview of a book that I’ve found useful and want to recommend to you. A summary isn’t meant to replace reading the book. There is so much more than I can cover here.

Available from Amazon: Ebook | Print


Signs of a Board-Savvy CEO at Work

The organization thrives partly because of the board’s close collaboration with the CEO in making judgments and governing decisions that address growth opportunities and mitigate threats.

Board members find their governing work deeply satisfying. It’s worth all their time and effort, and they feel like they “own” the governing judgments and decisions they make.

The board doesn’t micromanage. Board members tend not to get involved in non-governing administrative work.

A rock-solid relationship between the board and CEO that can withstand the inevitable stress and strains at the top of every nonprofit organization. The CEO has staying power in a challenging job. Feelings of ownership and satisfaction among board members are both ingredients and markers of a solid board-CEO relationship.

Satisfied Owners of their Governing Work

A strong, productive board-CEO relationship is built on board member satisfaction and ownership.

Satisfaction comes from meaningful engagement in crucial governing work that (a) capitalizes on the resources the member brings to their board work and (b) that significantly affects the success of their nonprofit. Board members can see the difference they are making.

Ownership arises from early involvement in governing decisions, early enough to substantively shape those decisions. Meetings shouldn’t be an endless stream of pre-decided items where board members are expected to listen, nod and vote.

Ownership and satisfaction are closely related potent forces that form the cornerstone of board member loyalty. The board’s work should be rewarding, ego-stimulating, and sometimes even fun.

Board member engagement at this level takes careful thinking, planning, and process design. It takes a board-savvy CEO to facilitate that.

The Three Characteristics of a Board Savvy CEO

  1. Mindset. Board-savvy CEOs view their board as an invaluable organizational asset – perhaps its most vital resource. They see the board as integral to the organization’s long-term success. They feel strongly responsible for helping their board become more effective as a governing body and, therefore, a more valuable organizational asset.
  2. Knowledge. Board-savvy CEOs understand governance inside out – the role, structure, and work of governing and the processes to engage board members. They are students of good governance practices. They consider knowledge in this arena as crucial as other areas of nonprofit leadership.
  3. Commitment. They make governing one of their top-tier priorities. They think of it as a critical “program” in their portfolio. Thus, part of their job is to support the success and development of the “governing program.” They ask vital questions: How well is it functioning today? How must it change to fit tomorrow’s governance needs? What can we do to increase meaningful engagement and expand members’ sense of ownership?

The Three Key Roles of the Board-Savvy CEO

  1. Chief Board Capacity Builder. The board-savvy CEO takes the lead in developing the board’s governing capacity, recognizing that board members have neither the expertise nor time to develop the board. Plus, it’s in the CEO’s personal and professional interests to have a high-functioning board. The CEO builds board members’ appetite for systematically strengthening their governing capacities, rather than just inheriting the board from yesterday.
  2. Chief Governing Process Designer. A board-savvy CEO takes the lead in creating practical strategies to engage board members in partnership with the board chair. CEOs have a stark choice: choose to consciously design or choose to inherent yesterday’s board.
  3. Chief Governing Relationship Manager. The board-savvy CEO recognizes that the board-CEO working relationship is a dynamic, ongoing collaboration that must be nurtured, so they take the lead in meticulously managing the relationship.

Board-savvy CEOs know that engagement and the mechanics of governance are not enough. They also tend to the basics of relationship management, formal and informal communications, and recognizing and resolving conflicts.

Board-savvy CEOs build close, productive relationships with their board chairs. They do that by:

  • Getting to know their board chair well, their interests, and aspirations.
  • Working with the board chair to clarify the division of labor between the board and CEO.
  • Supporting the board chair so they succeed and have a rich, satisfying experience on the board.
  • Never missing opportunities to provide the board chair with ego satisfaction.

Anyone can learn to be more board savvy, but Eadie cautions you shouldn’t expect it to be easy to apply simply because you’ve mastered this book’s content. Being a board-savvy CEO requires discipline, tenacity, and perhaps some courage from time to time.

Book details and where to buy it:

Buy the book on Amazon: Ebook | Print*
Amazon rating: 5 of 5 stars
GoodReads rating: 3.7 of 5 stars
Page count: 134
Publication date: January 15, 2014
Author website:
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