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Thou Shall Not Meddle: Exploring Autonomy in the Board-Executive Director Relationship

Contingency, Behavioural and Evolutionary Perspectives on Public and Nonprofit Governance

ISBN: 978-1-78560-429-4, eISBN: 978-1-78560-428-7

Publication date: 6 November 2015

Abstract

Purpose

Through an inductive approach, I examine the process in which autonomy is exercised in the board-executive director relationship. A further contribution of the current study is the exploration of the antecedents of the delegation process.

Methodology/approach

Utilizing the benefits of semi-structured critical incident interviews, and analysis of organizational documentation, I study the process in which autonomy is exercised in the board-executive director relationship.

Findings

Evidence is found within organizations of times when it is clear that board members understand that there are boundaries to their role, respecting this autonomy, and times when board members overstep their role. Next, in the current study, I explore the antecedents of the delegation process, including identification of role boundaries, role clarity, clear expectations, trust in the executive director, and trust in the governance control systems.

Research implications

Autonomy has historically been examined within seemingly paradoxical frameworks; this has included investigating autonomy as part of the definition of laissez faire leadership, as a key feature of transformational leadership and as one component of the jobs characteristics model, while others have characterized it as a stream of shared leadership. In the current project, the process of providing autonomy takes on characteristics consistent with both vertical leadership and distributed leadership. The executive director similarly plays a role in maintaining previously defined role boundaries, which is evidence of bidirectional influence. However, the board plays a disproportionately larger role in delineating and maintaining role boundaries – characteristics I demonstrate as being consistent with transformational leadership.

Originality/value

In this chapter, I provide a refreshing divergence from typical board prescriptions, in that I examine the board-executive director relationship through a behavioural lens. A clear understanding of the mutual influence and antecedents of autonomy are important to practitioners seeking to enhance performance through the delineation of roles.

Keywords

Citation

Bott, G. (2015), "Thou Shall Not Meddle: Exploring Autonomy in the Board-Executive Director Relationship", Contingency, Behavioural and Evolutionary Perspectives on Public and Nonprofit Governance (Studies in Public and Non-Profit Governance, Vol. 4), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 57-83. https://doi.org/10.1108/S2051-663020150000004003

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015 Emerald Group Publishing Limited