This paper studies the relationship between CEO tenure and the attributions that boards make regarding performance, i.e. it analyzes the causes of poor performance as interpreted by boards. This is important because several studies have focused on boards’ disciplinary actions while discussing whether boards are able to hold long-tenured CEOs accountable for poor firm performance. However, less attention has been directed at boards’ attributions of poor performance that may precede such actions. Board attribution data was collected from 973 annual reports of poorly performing Chinese high-tech listed firms between 2007 and 2013. Findings show that, with longer CEO tenure, boards are actually more likely to attribute poor performance to internal, CEO-related factors, rather than to external, environment-related ones. These findings are consistent with the assumption that CEOs’ increasing obsolescence with tenure possibly weakens boards’ allegiances towards CEOs, and decreases CEO influence over board attributions of poor performance. The moderating effects found for instability of prior performance and industry dynamism largely support this explanation. The study contributes to the board governance literature by highlighting the role of cognition prior to disciplinary behavior in board governance.