Focus: People Management - Coaching session with Stephen Bubb

Q. We have a new chair every two years. My incoming chair is a complete stranger. How am I going to work with her?

A. Preparation, preparation, preparation. You will need to meet your new chair very quickly. Ring her now and ask her out for dinner. I always think the first meeting is best over food and wine (and this does not mean KFC). You need to establish a social relationship in which you get to know each other and your general likes and dislikes.

All this will help you build up a picture of the type of chair they are likely to be. As a broad generalisation, there are four main types, and you need different coping strategies for each one.

First, there's the Ideal Chair - someone with the right values and a focus on strategy and policy development. They don't want to micro-manage.

If she is one of these, thank your lucky stars.

Second, there's the Status-Conscious Chair. They are interested mainly in the profile and their own position as chair - a sort of showboater.

There is nothing wrong with this approach - indeed, it can be quite useful.

You will need to find plenty of opportunities for external meetings and receptions where they can be seen around.

Next, there's The Procrastinator. They are not happy about making even the smallest decisions. They may be inconsistent and will listen to the last person they spoke to. These are among the most difficult types to cope with, and you will have to be more proactive. You will have to provide more paperwork and supply firm and clear recommendations. You will need to get them to delegate much more of the decision-making process to you, and you will need to reassure them constantly that you have matters in hand.

Last, there's The Closet Manager. Actually, these people don't want to be the chair - they want to be the chief executive. They have a firm and clear conviction that they can do the job better than you. They are always in the office and their itchy fingers are just dying to get their hands on the job evaluation scheme so that they can give the organisation the benefit of their knowledge (usually limited). These are the worst of the lot.

The best thing is to keep these people very busy in their role. Make them travel a lot, appearing on behalf of the organisation or leading a project you have set up especially to keep them out of mischief.

The bottom line is to get a clear understanding right from the beginning about the respective roles in the decision-making framework. As with many organisations, I would guess that you don't have a role definition for your chair. If not, then how about working on one now?

Someone once described the chair/chief executive relationship as being like a pair of chopsticks. One is more effective with the support of the other.

Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send your questions to stephen.bubb@haynet.com.

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