board-engagement-silverman-20210104

Board engagement is necessary for company success

Article originally published in the American City Business Journals on January 4, 2021.

Since the start of the pandemic, boards of directors have never been as engaged with their CEOs on working through operational issues that could have a strategic impact to the company.

I currently sit on the boards of three K-12 independent educational institutions. During the past nine months, I have attended numerous virtual board committee meetings called by the CEO/head of school to discuss how the school should navigate the pandemic. 

During these conversations, the head of school and staff presented their plans for comment and input by the directors. The conversations focused on adopting protocols to keep staff, faculty and students safe, and how to best move forward to fulfill the mission of the school. 

The key to these conversations was transparency and a recognition of the brutal facts of reality. Plans were designed to be consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health department guidelines.

There were many unknowns to address as the new school year approached. How would the pandemic impact September enrollment and the finances of the school? How could students whose parents lost their jobs be financially supported?

We discussed three different modes of delivering education – 100% online, a hybrid of online and in-person instruction and 100% in person. Each mode led to various questions. Should the mode vary, depending on the grade? Would classroom space limitations accommodate social distancing requirements? What are the procedures in the event someone at the school tests positive for Covid-19?

The views of staff, faculty, students and parents needed to be taken into consideration. Many parents and students wanted in-person instruction, while many teachers preferred instruction delivered online. How could these divergent views be addressed?

The directors of these schools serve as an independent group of people who provide valuable advice and feedback to school leadership. This is how effective CEOs and directors are supposed to interact.

Directors can provide their opinions, but any decision is the purview of the CEO/head of school. This is of paramount importance, so the CEO can be held accountable for results.

In a conversation with one of my direct reports shortly after being appointed CEO of PQ Corporation in 2000, he said to me that I should share with the board only information that was necessary for them to do their jobs and just get through the board meeting. I immediately knew that I would not recommend him to be my successor and that this individual would never be a successful CEO.

CEOs, your directors are a great resource for advice and counsel. Be open with them and share the brutal facts of reality. It’s your way of building trust and credibility with your board. You will make better decisions.


Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.

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