This past June, I gave a talk at the annual Theatre Communications Group (TCG) conference in Portland, Oregon. It was entitled “Ten Things Trustees Should Know About Their CEOs”.  It was constructed to initiate conversation among an audience of both trustees and artistic/managing leaders. It did!


Here is the list. It was presented in a series of slides, so the numbered item appeared, and then I could add the italicized sub-item as the dialogue began.



  1. CEOs (Artistic, Managing, Executive Directors) admire the heck out of trustees.

    Well, if they are engaged, Generous and get things done. Board and Executive Leaders agree. These trustees are Gold.


  2. Theater CEOs acquire a lot of experience running businesses…

    …but they are non-profit businesses. See Jim Collins – “From Good to Great, Social Sector”.


  3. For the most part, CEOs think Boards make the worst employers.

    Think about having a new volunteer boss every 2-3 years, and a new evaluation process.


  4. The Managing/Executive Director spends 40% of their time working with trustees. More, during a capital campaign.

    Examples: 1X1s, committees, fundraising, writing reports, staff/trustee intervention…recovering from board meetings…


  5. Most Artistic Directors would rather not interact with anyone except artists.

    So their time spent with donors and trustees is precious. But make sure they do.


  6. The hardest job of a theater CEO is managing an underpaid and overworked staff that often feels underappreciated.

    Boards should frequently ask what keeps a CEO up at night.


  7. No one wants to make the budget work more than the Artistic Director.

    When a budget works, it validates an Artistic Director’s choices, builds trust, and opens doors to further risk.


  8. In an Artistic Director/Managing Director structure, each CEOs job is to make the other one look good.

    No competition, ever.

    This could go also for the CEO and Board Leader.


  9. Never keep a CEO in the dark.

    They hate executive sessions, and get paranoid when trustees are meeting without them. Board Leader must have full follow-up with the CEOs afterwards.


  10. CEOs want, and NEED, the Board Leader to be their biggest advocate – not their evaluator.

    You should have frank conversations privately, but you must be in lock-step publicly. The entire Board needs this unification, too.


  11. (Bonus!) CEOs need the Board Leader to diffuse individual trustee concerns, questions, and challenges to the CEO and operations.

    The Board Leader must lead – and know when dialogue is counter-productive. Not every trustee opinion is helpful…


    It’s never too late to have these conversations between trustees and CEOs.