20 Important Things Corporate Board Members Want CEOs To Do

Expert Panel® Forbes Coaches Council

Corporate board members consider issues that stand to impact businesses, their employees, shareholders and consumers, helping CEOs establish strategic goals and push their companies in the right direction. Ensuring both parties live up to their commitment to maintaining the health of a company requires strong cooperation, open and honest communication, and trusting collaboration between the board and the CEO.

For this partnership to be a positive one, chief executives must forge productive working relationships with the members of their company’s board of directors. Below, members of Forbes Coaches Council share things board members wish company leaders knew, or would do differently, and how these aspects impact a board’s ability to provide the support, guidance and advice C-level executives need to make the best decisions for the company.

1. Be Honest And Compassionate

Based on my board experience, there are two things board members value most: 1. honesty about challenges and potential risks, as it fosters trust and enables informed decision-making; and 2. genuine compassion and empathy toward employees. By embodying these virtues, executives can build trust, create a culture of openness, foster stronger relationships and ultimately drive sustainable business growth. – Anna Yusim, MD, Yusim Psychiatry, Consulting & Executive Coaching

2. Prioritize A People-Centric Approach

Most corporate board members wish executives knew the significance of a people-centric approach. Fostering a positive company culture, prioritizing employee well-being and valuing diverse perspectives are all key attributes of the best leaders. – Jonathan H. Westover, Ph.D, Human Capital Innovations

3. Focus On Long-Term Success

Corporate boards seek executives who focus on long-term success, communicate openly, foster innovation and adeptly consider the diverse perspectives of all stakeholders to steer the company toward sustainable growth and inclusive decision-making. – Lara Augusta, Embracing Potentiality

4. Share The Bad As Well As The Good

Board members want executives to know what the competition is up to and to be able to anticipate market trends and plan accordingly. What they want them to do differently is to candidly share bad news, not just good news, along with an actionable plan to address it. – Kathy Bernhard, KFB Leadership Solutions

5. Master The Art Of Storytelling

Executives have a duty to be the face and brand of the company. Board members often wish executives would master the ability to share compelling narratives, internally and externally, that inspire employees and customers. Good storytellers and thought leaders inspire and engage others, foster emotional connections and engender trust that elevates the employer brand. – Gina Riley, Gina Riley Consulting

6. Leverage The Board’s Expertise Early And Often

Boards have expertise that can make the leadership team’s job easier and boost outcomes, but board engagement is often reserved until something has gone wrong. Boards want their expertise leveraged early and often. When the leader wins, the board wins. – Asia Bribiesca-Hedin, Bridgewell LLC Professional Services

7. Create An Agile Culture

One thing the board of directors wants executives in the organization to do differently is to create an agile work culture and ensure members of the management team serve as role models. – Dr. Wasit Prombutr, 10X Consulting

8. Have Board Meeting Pre-Calls; Make Managers Visible

Based on my experience, I wish executives knew two things. First is the value of a board meeting pre-call; well-run board meetings make a huge difference in increasing board members’ buy-in and commitment to the CEO’s strategy. The second thing that CEOs should know is that it is their responsibility to expose the individual management team members to the board. – Ben Levitan, Cedalion Partners

9. Pull Yourself Out Of The Weeds

In my experience, corporate board members wish their executives could pull themselves out of the weeds and see the bigger picture of what’s coming. Today’s market landscape can change rapidly. Executives need to be able to anticipate future risks, technological advancements and new competitors and put counterstrategies in place without negatively impacting the core business. – Gabriella Goddard, Brainsparker Ltd

10. Prepare Thoroughly For Board-Level Interactions

As an experienced board chair, I notice that the best company executives prepare thoroughly for their board-level interactions. Their preparation is two-fold. First, they work out what information is most important for the board to know, and then they practice how to best present that information concisely and confidently. This is particularly important when there is bad news on the agenda! – Dr. John Blakey, The Trusted Executive

11. Learn How To Develop Culture And Manage Talent

Most corporate board members wish company executives knew how to develop and cultivate company culture and effectively manage talent. Executives can communicate the strategic vision to the board, but maintaining an effective, supportive culture for employees in a post-pandemic, hybrid work environment poses a challenge. Developing talent and retaining employees is always critical to success. – Tinna Jackson, Jackson Consulting Group, LLC

12. Be Clear, Concise, Vocal, Flexible And Open-Minded

Executives must first be clear and concise, respecting board members’ time. They should also embrace speaking up, offering only honest, forward-thinking ideas. Finally, remaining flexible and open-minded is essential. Board feedback may sometimes seem harsh or critical, but it shouldn’t be taken personally. It’s often the byproduct of busy, fast-thinking board members striving for efficiency. – Brian Houp, ReZone Coaching

13. Tie Reporting To Strategic Goals

As a current nonprofit board chair and experienced board member, the number one request that we have had for our executives is about how they share information with the board. We want to hear report-outs tied directly to strategic goals and have operational metrics reported with process controls so that we don’t focus on the “noise” of normal variation and can tell where we need to put attention. – Katie Anderson, Katie Anderson Consulting

14. Proactively Engage The Board On Strategic Planning

Communicate early and often! Board members often wish executives would proactively engage with the board early on in strategic planning, seeking guidance and input to ensure alignment with long-term goals. They also seek improved communication and transparency, particularly during challenging times, to maintain trust and confidence among stakeholders. – Karina Ochis, Prof. Dr. Karina Ochis

15. Ensure The Company’s Actions Reflect Its Core Values

Drawing from my board experience, I would say that board members want leaders to understand the importance of transparent strategic communication, anticipate market changes and ensure that the actions of the company reflect its core values, promoting a long-term sustainable vision. – Andre Shojaie, HumanLearn

16. Take A Larger, More Diverse View Of Key Issues

Having served on a number of boards, I would say that a strong desire is that the company executives take a larger—more diverse—view of the key issues facing the company. In other words, it is not just finance, or technology, or marketing, or product—what is really required to excel is taking the totality of all these variables and creating a sustainable, overriding future paradigm. – Ash Varma, Varma & Associates

17. Prioritize Long-Term Sustainability

From my experience, corporate board members often wish executives prioritized long-term sustainability over short-term gains, embraced innovation, and displayed a deeper understanding of market dynamics and customer needs. – Joshua Miller, Joshua Miller Executive Coaching

18. Avoid Surprises At All Costs

From my own experience as chair, I would say, first, avoid surprises, good and bad—especially with a “bad news” surprise, warn board members beforehand to allow them to prepare a response so that they don’t feel caught off guard. Surprises are to be avoided at all costs. Second, think strategically, which generally allows board members to see and think about the bigger picture. – Cellene Hoogenkamp, KokuaHub Inc Coaching

19. Use Board Members As Thought Partners

Corporate board members could be used as thought partners to guide strategic thinking. Too often, corporate boards are seen as antagonistic overseers, which impairs the ability of company executives to solicit the feedback, wisdom and insight needed to achieve cultural change efforts. Given the breadth of knowledge on a corporate board, board members bring a wealth of knowledge that should be leveraged. – Joel Davis Brown, Pneumos

20. Make Data-Driven Decisions

Corporate board members wish that company executives would make decisions based on data. For this reason, they encourage using new technology in a way that allows them to access clear and precise information. This enables them to design a company strategy aligned with the reality of the business and the skills of their people so they can pursue the most challenging objectives they have set. – Paula Vidal Castelli, Paula Vidal Castelli Intl., LLC