How to be an Effective Board President

Why does it matter that we have a good Board President?

Just as a co-op board is elected by the owners to work on their behalf, the Board President is a director who is elected or appointed by the rest of the directors to serve and lead the board in doing its work. If the person in the Board President role is well suited for the job, the board is better able to do its job well. As a result the board will have the capacity to discern long-term vision and provide direction toward reaching the aspirations of the cooperative. It will also cultivate a positive relationship between itself and the General Manager. These things will make it much easier for the co-op to meet the needs of its owners and other stakeholders. Making sure your Board President is inspired to serve, is willing to learn and is dedicated to effective governance and good group process is important to the health of the board and the vitality of your co-op.

What does a Board President do?

First we need to understand what the Board President’s job is. The job of Board President is typically outlined in your Board Process policies and might look like this:

  • From the CBLD policy template: C6 – Officers’ Roles:
    • “We will elect officers in order to help us accomplish our job.
  1. The president ensures the Board acts consistently with Board policies.
    1. The president is authorized to use any reasonable interpretation of the provisions in the Board Process and Board-Management Relationship policies.
    2. The president will chair and set the agenda for Board meetings.
    3. The president plans for leadership (officer) perpetuation,
    4. The president may represent the Board to outside parties.”
  • The board delegates certain tasks to the President and the President is thus empowered by and accountable to the board.


What does it take to be an effective Board President?

Now we know the basic expectations of a Board President and how the role fits into the larger delegation and accountability flow of the organization, but there’s more to actually doing the job- and doing it well. Here are some keys to becoming the best Board President you can be:

  • See yourself as a Servant-Leader

It is important that board leaders be driven, not by ambition or authority, but by the desire to be in service to the board, the co-op, and the community. The key tenets of Servant Leadership (developed by Robert Greenleaf, adapted by John Carver and paraphrased here) explain the relationship between the Board and its President:

  • Governance authority and accountability lies with the board as a whole, not with its president.
  • We must formulate the board’s job first, and only then derive the president’s role.
  • In the board-president relationship, the board must unambiguously be the superior, the chairperson the servant.
  • The president is charged to lead a process in which high-performance governance is the product.
  • Although all board members bear a responsibility for governance discipline, the president not only guides the process but is empowered to make certain decisions.
  • The President is the leader in establishing and maintaining board self-discipline. .


  • Build your Knowledge, Skills and Temperament

Board success requires that a team of people work together to complete the tasks and make the decisions necessary for governance. Effective Board Presidents will have awareness of and work to develop the knowledge, skills and attributes that are vital to guiding a group in leadership of their organization.


Knowledge (concepts, theory, fact):

  • Become fluent in your board’s policies and your chosen system of governance
    • Understand that your governance model/system is a tool that enables the board to address fiduciary concerns and create good outcomes
  • Be familiar with the board’s and the co-op’s history and culture
  • Understand the larger world in which your co-op operates
    • Reach out to the wider world; tap into trainings (e.g. CBL101, Leadership Training), resources (e.g. CBLD library, Cooperative Grocers Network), gatherings (e.g. CCMA, Cooperative Café) and other board leaders.
  • Understand team development (Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, Transforming)
  • Ensure Officer Perpetuation
    • A good president should be both vitally important and imminently replaceable—the president makes sure that the board is positioned to succeed with the next president


Skills (practiced ability):

  • Ensure well-run meetings
    • Meetings can be facilitated by the president or by another skilled person
    • Respect people’s time- start and end all meetings on time
  • Plan long-term and short-term agendas for the board, maintain a board calendar
    • Be a strategic thinker- learn to see the bigger board picture
  • Listen well, speak articulately
  • Balance the voices-make sure each director has a chance to (and does) speak
    • Draw out the wisdom that each person brings to the table
  • Encourage diversity
    • Seek out diverse viewpoints, especially those underrepresented in the board room
    • Understand and be aware of prejudices (“isms”), and how they might appear in the boardroom
  • Understand Impact vs Intent
    • Be aware of how what you say and do impacts others, regardless of your intent.
  • Be respectful of disagreement
    • Seek out a diversity of views
    • Create an environment where healthy dissent is welcome. Challenging conversations can draw out creativity and help the board to think more broadly.
    • Learn when it’s time to agree to disagree, call the question, vote and move on.
  • Delegate tasks and leadership
    • Tap into the strengths of others; encourage them to step up and share their gifts.
    • Manage the use of committees to help the board do its work
    • Encourage directors to be leaders within board and on committees
    • The goal is that each director develops good leadership skills. Leadership sometimes means stepping back.
  • Ensure Officer Perpetuation
    • A good president should be both vitally important and imminently replaceable—the president makes sure that the board is positioned to succeed with the next president
  • Cultivate a positive working relationship with the GM
    • It is vital the board and the GM function as a team- talk to each other regularly with goal of building alignment in direction and movement
  • Get to know the people on your board and help them get to know each other. Make time for fun!


Temperament or Attributes (disposition, qualities):

  • Be willing to serve the needs of the group and the organization
  • Be dedicated to creating and maintaining effective group process
    • Don’t be tied to any one outcome or decision
    • Be both disciplined and flexible
  • Have a vision for how the board can excel
    • Your job is to cultivate good group process, not to mold the board to your agenda or get them to a certain decision.
  • Have just the right amount of time to do the job
    • Too much time can be as dangerous as not enough. A person spending too much time on board work may become controlling or neglect to develop leadership in others.
  • Be approachable and welcoming to all
    • GM, Board, all members
    • Be patient and diplomatic; model respect and active listening


Additional Resources

–and much more!

  • Servant-Leadership (
  • “The Chairperson’s Role as Servant-Leader to the Board” by John Carver, pub. by Jossey-Bass


Note: This Field Guide was adapted from “Becoming an Effective Board President”, a CBLD Online Recorded Workshop, August 25, 2010, developed and facilitated by Nina Johnson and Art Sherwood. Thanks to Donna Stroup, Alex Gyori, Steve Peterson and John Hatton who, as panelists on the ORW, contributed their wisdom and experience to this Field Guide.




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