Sunday, June 5, 2011

How Does the Leadership Role Differ Between the Chairman and the CEO?

One interesting question that hasn’t received much attention yet is the leadership relationship between the Chairman and the CEO, (specifically in organisations where CEO duality does not exist). For example, what are the leadership roles of each and how do they differ? And what is the direct relationship between the two roles – or at least what should it be?

There are numerous definitions of what constitutes effective leadership within an organisational context. Some believe that effective leaders generate higher productivity, lower costs and more opportunities and others that effective leaders create results, attain goals, realise visions and other key objectives in a shorter space of time and with a greater degree of quality than ineffective leaders. Leadership is definitely about consistency of excellence and best practice. Consequently numerous leadership models have been developed, including transformational leadership, transactional leadership, functional leadership, situational leadership, charismatic leadership, path-goal leadership and authentic leadership.

But the leadership relationship between the Chairman and the CEO isn’t about theories but a practical relationship between two leaders, that influences organisational performance - so how should these leaders operate together in the best interests of the organisation?

There have been various attempts to identify the behaviour traits and skill set required to become a ‘great’ leader over the years; hence it would seem fair to assume that both the Chairman and CEO would already possess the following skills set (if they are effective leaders);

Honesty: Good leaders are honest with themselves and others. They know their strengths and weaknesses and aren’t afraid to openly discuss them.

Passion: Good leaders are passionate about what they do. This is often a sub-conscious rather than conscious behaviour, and is an attribute that is noticed and admired by those that work with them. This passion resonates itself through endless positive energy and apparent self-sacrifice.

Vision: Good leaders have a clear vision that they understand and are committed to. They can communicate it clearly and succinctly to all who follow them. This vision is never static, but is dynamic, exciting and very much alive.

Ethical: Good leaders have strong values and ethics which they proudly defend. They don’t sit on the fence or move the goal posts but have a set of values and beliefs that define them and what they do, and allows them to stand out from other leadership ‘pretenders’.

Set the example: Good leaders are not afraid to set the example for others to follow, and often get their hands dirty and muck in with the team to achieve the required results. They will often be perceived as part of a team by on-lookers and do not put themselves up on pedestals or use power traits to achieve results.

Inspire: Good leaders inspire others to be better and do better. Employees (at any level) with a good leader follow them because they want to and for no other reason.

Best practice: Good leaders embrace best practice by not only implementing current best practice, but by encouraging their organisations to set the standards for others to follow. They set high but realistic standards in everything they do.

Strategy: Good leaders are effective strategic planners and implementers. Good leaders do not just have the vision but have the foresight to develop the required implementation plans to ensure that strategic visions are translated into reality.

The relationship between the Chairman and CEO is unique to the specific organisation and the two incumbents of these key positions. The Chairman should be someone that the CEO can privately refer to for mentoring and support, but there appears to be little evidence that the CEO takes advantage of this kind of relationship – often feeling that they must put their own individual stamp on the organisation. So what should the roles and relationship be?

A best practice culture requires effective leadership from the corporate board of the organisation, where the leadership may come from an individual like the Chairman or CEO, or from the corporate board in general. This high level focus on leadership is commonly referred to as strategic leadership. As part of the continued research into effective leadership this area requires just as much attention as any other, (if not more) as it is here that the strategic direction and high level decisions are made that impact on the organisations culture and opportunities for sustainable growth. Yet, even at this level, not all agree on the best format for effective strategic leadership.


Brownbill, N. (2009) Be the Best in Business. Advanced Corporate Concepts: Cape Town.

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