Whenever things are going well for a company or public institution, it is usually the chief executive or the general manager who enjoys the limelight. However should the company find itself in deep water, it is the chairman who must take the flak and face up to the media sharks if they scent that someone may be forced to walk the plank.
Even so, there has been little research into the role(s) played by the chairman of the board when the company finds itself in difficulties.
Together with Jonas Gabrielsson from Lund University in Sweden and Alessandro Minichilli from Bocconi University in Italy, Professor Huse has undertaken a comprehensive study of almost 700 members from a total of 320 Norwegian company boards. Ordinary board members were consulted in the study in order to produce a better understanding of the leadership role in the boardroom.
The results of the study have now been presented in an article in the international professional publication International Journal of Leadership Studies.
Knowledge must be used
“It is not enough for board members to possess the appropriate knowledge to deal with the board’s problems; they must also use it”, asserts Professor Huse.
According to Huse, the chairman’s actions and expertise play a vital role in utilising the potential contained within the boardroom. BI’s professor also sees the board as a team that can assist in creating value.
The study shows that a good board culture that is characterised by team work will make a positive contribution to the board’s strategic commitment. The marks of such a culture are interdependence, creativity, openness and generosity, critical attitudes and independent views, and last but not least, preparation and commitment.
The study, which forms part of the BI research programme ‘The Value Creating Board’, shows how this type of team production culture can improve the efficiency and task performance of the company’s board.
Particular challenges faced by the chairman
A good board culture that is characterised by team spirit does not happen on its own; instead it puts particular demands on the board’s chairman.
The results of the study show that it is not sufficient for the board chairman to be the front man, moderator, meeting chairman, mentor, decision maker or strategist.
“If the board is to work together effectively as a team, the chairman must adopt an active role as coach and team leader,” maintains Morten Huse.
According to Professor Huse, the chairman of the board may have to deal with greater leadership challenges than those faced by the company’s general manager – and for a post which is usually performed on a part time basis.
The study’s researchers want to encourage greater focus on the leadership roles accompanying the position of the board’s chairman than is the case at the moment, and see this as a prerequisite for better board practice.
Jonas Gabrielsson, Morten Huse and Alessandro Minichilli (2007). “Understanding the leadership role of the board chairperson through a team production approach”, International Journal of Leadership Studies, Vol 3 (1): 21-39
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