Board's role expands to conflict mediator

The "important yet seldom discussed role of the board chair," as governance consultant Barry S. Bader wrote in the American Hospital Association Great Boards newsletter, is conflict management. The unsung role of the hospital or health system board is to arbitrate conflicts with physicians, trustees, the CEO or the community.

In fact, CEOs and board chairs ranked conflict management as the fifth highest on the list of 14 qualities a board chair should have, after financial knowledge, strategic planning, quality and previous board experience, according to AHA's governance survey.

"The chair is the board's leader. Chairs set the tone for ethical conduct, strategic thinking and diligent oversight. They represent the board with the community and key stakeholders, take the point in CEO interactions and motivate fellow directors to tap their skills and enthusiasm," Bader said. "Handling conflicts is only one part of the job--but because conflicts take on outsized proportions, the way the chair handles conflicts leaves a clear and long imprint on his or her tenure."

The AHA newsletter recommended that CEOs should explain any potential conflicts to incoming board chairs so they can keep an eye on those issues. Also, establish conflict management mechanisms, such as regular executive sessions at board meetings.

In addition, set up a board succession plan. Only 5 percent of survey respondents said their board uses an approved set of criteria for selecting new chairs, in which chairs typically are chosen based on seniority or relationships rather than defined competencies. Instead, consider naming a chair elect a year before the current chair's term expires and having at least two individuals in mind that meet the skills required.

To learn more:
- see the newsletter (.pdf)
- here's the AHA survey (purchase required)

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