The most important decision a board faces is the hiring of its leader. At LeaderFit we know that this decision has the single biggest impact on an organization’s success and sustainability. Given the importance of the hiring decision, LeaderFit believes a board should give special attention and care to setting up their search committee, and selecting their committee chair.

How to Identify a Search Committee Chair

After thirteen years of executive search, LeaderFit has developed some recommendations for boards in appointing their search committee chair. Specifically, LeaderFit recommends that a search committee chair:

  • Should not also be chair of the board. Board chairs are often very close to outgoing executive directors. To oversee an effective search, the search committee will benefit from a chair who is not too closely tied to the outgoing executive director, but instead has a more neutral perspective and can provide objectivity in the search for a new leader.
  • Has the time and capacity to serve in this role. The search for a new director is usually very intensive and time-consuming. A successful search requires a committee chair that understands the importance of the transition and can dedicate the necessary time and attention for the duration of the search.
  • Can serve as an effective point person.  While the search chair has no more clout or influence than other committee or board members, an effective search committee chair will need to competently manage committee logistics making sure materials are disseminated, meetings and interviews scheduled, and that gatherings start and end on time. The chair should be timely, dependable and detail oriented.
  • Well-regarded, well-liked by other board members. Because the search chair will be spearheading the search committee for the duration of the search, the selected chair should have the respect and confidence of all the other board members. Ideally, this individual will also be well-regarded by key-stakeholders within the organization.
  • Has high EQ and is good facilitator. Ideally a search chair will be able to represent the board to interviewing candidates as well as represent leading candidates to the full board. In order to do this, effective search committee chairs will have good interpersonal skills, be able to read reactions, and assess and capture interpersonal dynamics.
  • Ideally has experience being involved in a successful search. Experience with successful hiring can help provide insight to a new search. An ideal search committee chair will have prior hiring/search experience to bring to bear on a new search for an executive director. 

How to Structure a Search Committee

The role of search committee is not to select a board’s new executive director, it is to narrow the pool of applicants and interview and select the most qualified candidates. A search committee ensures a fair and thorough review of candidates, and ultimately makes a recommendation to the full board of their top slate. LeaderFit recommends that the members of an organization’s full search committee:

  • Comprise 5-7 board members. LeaderFit believes is preferable to have a smaller committee of committed and consistent members than a larger one comprised of members who don’t have time and attention to give to the process. However, due to the challenges of scheduling, a search committee should not be comprised of less than 5 members.
  • Have deep institutional knowledge. In order to effectively narrow and prioritize candidates, search committee members must have a deep understanding of the needs and culture of the organization for which they are hiring.
  • Reflect the diversity of the organization and/or community in which it serves. Ideally search committee members will reflect the diversity of the staff and/or clientele of the organization for which they are hiring. 
  • Have a clear expectation of availability. Serving on a search committee is a temporary but intense committee assignment. Selected members need to be able to honor the required time commitment and have the availability and attention to devote to the process.
  • Have experience effectively hiring. Any experience with successful hiring can help provide insight to a new search. Ideally search committee members, will have prior hiring/search experience to bring to bear on a new search for an executive director.


It is important to note, that a lack of seriousness or attentiveness to the hiring process can be potentially off-putting to the strongest and most qualified candidates. Both the individual search committee members and the committee chair need to be cognizant of how they are representing their organization to the applicants and ensure that their committee reflects professionalism, objectivity and collegiality. Experience has taught LeaderFit that a search committee structured in the ways outlined above will be the most effective in selecting its next leader.