Are you an established Chief Executive with an incoming Chair? Are you an established Chair with an incoming Chief Executive? Are you both new together? Have you been working together for some time? How do you, or how will you, work together?

I bet that wherever you are in this scenario, you’ve made assumptions. Do you ever test out those assumptions? Probably not. We all make assumptions all the time – sometimes unconsciously. So – we’ve made an assumption and so has the other person. We don’t test them, so we have expectations of how someone will be. Then they fail to live up to those expectations (and why should they, they don’t know them!) – and we’re disappointed/angry/frustrated. So the relationship flounders without either of you understanding why. Does this get talked about? Sometimes, but rarely!

I have a suggestion. When you next meet, or ideally when you first meet, talk about how you will work together. How often will you meet? Can you talk in between meetings? And if so, are there any boundaries? Times you’re not available, for instance. Who will set agendas for these meetings? Do you want your Chair/Chief Executive to know about your family life and associated challenges? Do you assume that s/he will be sympathetic to your challenges, or will s/he expect you to soldier on? You can add to this list as you see fit. Your list will depend on what you have experienced in the past.

As a former Chief Executive, now a Charity Consultant, and having been a Chair of an organisation, I know it from all sides. As a CEO I had a series of Chairs. A less than good Chair may just think everything you do is “wonderful” and never question anything. A good Chair (for me) listened, provided constructive criticism and challenged – encouraging me to do better. As a Chair, I hope that I had provided a listening ear, on a regular, diarised basis, giving advice when asked, and challenging when it felt necessary.

What’s your relationship with your Chair/Chief Executive? Does it work for you? If not, is it salvageable, so that you both get what you need/expect from the other? Try asking what the other one needs…it will repay you both!

Sue Pearlman is a trainer/facilitator/mentor and provides regular training for trustees for Herts Community Foundation and others. She runs Action Learning Sets for charity CEOs and loves doing governance reviews for organisations where she says she gets “under the skin” of a charity. She can be contacted at or 07973 254880