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The Great Debate Between CEO-Led and Board-Led Senior Living Communities

There is a critical distinction between a senior living community that is CEO-led versus one that is board-led. The sustainability and long-term capacity of any successful community, however, comes from neither scenario. Rather, it’s the ability of both entities to collaborate and bring their unique strengths to the table that moves the organization forward. To achieve this, start by defining the roles of executive leadership and boards in the senior care market.

Defining the Roles

Boards are considered owners in a nonprofit setting. Board members are generally volunteers, and many can be unfamiliar with the senior living industry. The CEO is employed by the board and provides leadership of the day-to-day implementation of the board-approved strategic plan.

In every senior living community, the CEO or executive director is responsible for the “how” and the board of directors in responsible for the “why.” The board of directors should not be involved in the day-to-day operations of the community just as the CEO should not be the sole decision maker on major organization decisions. In addition, each position is responsible for the following:

Senior Leadership Responsibilities
Board of Directors Responsibilities
  • Board development and education
  • Managing services and day-to-day operations
  • Organizational structure and strategic planning
  • Maintaining legal compliance
  • Deep understanding of the market in which the business operates
  • Selection and evaluation of CEO
  • Aligning key decisions with the community’s mission, vision, values and identity
  • Ensuring legal, financial and ethical accountability
  • Ensuring adequate resources and effective strategic planning
  • Monitoring and strengthening programs and services

Strengthening Ties

The relationship between CEOs and boards can take many forms. In all cases, it’s important to provide ongoing education to ensure everyone is on the same page. It can be extremely helpful to conduct a skill set analysis to determine not only the skills the current board brings to the work, but also what skills are needed through the recruitment process to execute strategy. Board members should sign off on their job responsibilities, so each member knows exactly what to expect and how to achieve success, together. It’s the duty of the CEO to keep the board aligned with their commitments and legal obligations.

Some boards of directors defer decision-making to CEOs, assuming they are the experts. It’s important, however, to probe deeper. What is the organization truly doing well? What human and financial capacity is necessary to move forward? Doing your part as a board requires having tough conversations and making tough decisions. If board members lose interest, stop reading documentation or stop looking at the financials, the entire organization suffers.

Working in Tandem

Both positions need to function like a well-oiled machine. A one-sided organization, one that is CEO-led or board-led, just won’t work in the long run. There will always be problems that arise when boards and leadership operate in separate silos. Working in tandem will always prevail over struggling for power or prestige.

Is your senior living community in need of a boost? Learn more about reviving your community in just five steps.


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