The COVID-19 crisis has increased the demand for board support, oversight, and advice. It has also forced boards to adapt to new ways of working, including more frequent virtual meetings and increased communication with management. Many board leaders1 have stepped up as a powerful sounding board for stressed CEOs, while others have struggled, not contributing as needed or causing unnecessary distractions for overburdened boards and executive leaders. The very nature of the pandemic has heightened concerns about leadership succession and the risk of unplanned departures from the board.
During a period of uncertainty such as this, the board’s top leader exercises a level of responsibility that is critical for good governance and the effective functioning of the board. Yet, our research and our experience drawn from our advisory work indicate that many boards approach their own succession planning and leader selection efforts in a reactive, informal manner. While individual directors may have a sense of who might be a good candidate, boards overall often do not have a clearly defined succession planning process or any agreed-upon role criteria. This paper sets out to provide guidance for organizations without a clearly defined succession plan.
TODAY’S INDEPENDENT BOARD LEADERS
Today’s Independent Board Leaders
Step One: Designating a Point Person and Timeline
Step Two: Role Criteria Development
Step Three: Assessment
Board Leverages Outside Consultant for Board Leader Succession
Step Four: Board Leader Selection
Considering an Outside Candidate as the Next Board Leader
Proactive is Effective
- ANTHONY GOODMAN is a senior member of Russell Reynolds Associates’ Board Effectiveness and Advisory practice. He is based in Boston.
- ALEXANDER MADRONAL is a member of Russell Reynolds Associates’ Board and CEO Advisory Partners knowledge team. He is based in Boston.
We use the term board leader to describe the independent, non-executive board chair or lead independent director, sometimes also referred to as thepresiding director.
We defined a major committee as the Audit, Compensation, or Nomination & Governance Committee.
Numbers do not add up to 100% as many board leaders had chaired more than one committee on the same board before becoming the board leader.
The Conference Board. “Corporate Board Practices in the Russell 3000 and S&P 500: 2019 Edition,” 2019.