The Dynamic Roles of Today’s Board Chairman

Episode Summary

Any governance aficionado will confirm that board leadership is a critical attribute of an effective board. And when the CEO doesn’t hold the chairman title, the responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of the non-executive board chair. But a title alone doesn’t make an effective leader.

In this episode, Michael Smith, the experienced board chairman of Zebra Technologies, discusses the challenges of serving as a chairman of the board. Smith outlines three distinct areas of accountability that board leadership must oversee: composition, “board hygiene,” and the board’s interaction with management. Today’s boards must think more like owners and draw on the private equity model for guidance when it comes to board operation and decision-making. Smith also addresses the fine line between collegiality and conflict:

Collegiality can coexist with profound disagreement and very vigorous debate, but the chairman has a very important role. The chairman has to create the atmosphere where all the viewpoints can get aired… and create an atmosphere where the dialogue doesn’t turn toxic—it doesn’t get personal—in such a way that relationships get broken and the functionality of the board collapses. I think that’s a delicate skill…. But it’s a critical skill for the chair.
— Michael Smith, Chairman of Zebra Technologies

The filming of this episode of Inside America’s Boardrooms was made possible by our Knowledge Partners.