How to Counsel Out the Ineffective Trustee

Vol. 15 No. 6

trustees eletter vol15 no6 counsel

Although it is unfortunate, Board leaders often find themselves dealing with one or more Trustees who have become ineffective in their Board roles. While various issues can lead to this ineffectiveness—burnout, disinterest, overextension, etc.—any Trustee who is not meeting expectations poses a threat to the Board’s morale as well as overall success.

Consider counseling out a Trustee when he or she is:

  • “toxic” or displays mission-inappropriate behaviors that have a considerable impact on the school community; ­
  • unwilling or unable to work cooperatively within the Board itself; and/or ­
  • deemed unlikely to recover previous levels of vigor without a break of a year or more from Board responsibilities.

Bear in mind there may be extenuating circumstances. Perhaps a Trustee is overworked, has problems at home, or is simply confused about his or her role on the Board (in which case, your Trustee orientation and education programs should be re-examined). If you have absolutely decided that the problematic Trustee must be removed, however, the Board President can take the following steps.

  • Ask the Trustee to move from trusteeship status to a non-Trustee committee membership. The rationale for this invitation would be a “lack of fit” with the Board or its agenda for the year or the committee charge. This ill fit may occur because of the Trustee’s apparent time constraints, fatigue, disinterest, or opposition to the strategic plan. Perhaps the Trustee makes inappropriate assumptions or behaviors relative to the plan, school mission, Board mission, or all three.
  • If the Trustee’s continued involvement even as a non-Trustee committee member is judged inadvisable, then ask the Trustee to resign. Use the same set of reasons and in the same context (focusing on the strategic plan and the Board agenda).
  • Decide not to renew the Trustee’s term. If the Trustee is serving the first of ISM’s recommended two allowable three-year terms, you can explain that renewal (either now or when the terms ends) seems inadvisable, again for the same reasons mentioned above.

While not the ideal way to motivate someone, the counseling process may provide the spark and motivation necessary to get the Trustee moving with the same excitement and in the same direction as other strong Trustees on the Board. Or the process may lead the Trustee to behave in ways—passive or active—even more problematic than before.

Regardless of your decision of whether to force the Trustee’s resignation in the face of a failed counseling-out effort, the point of tying the conversation to your planning document and Board agenda remains central. It places the decision on the same footing as your Trustee-recruitment and cultivation effort—one that is professional, not personal, and rooted in your mission statement and in your strategic plan.

Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Trustees Vol. 10 No. 3 Characteristics of the Ideal Trustee
The Source for Trustees Vol. 11 No. 8 Your Due Diligence as a Trustee

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 41 No. 10 Nine Characteristics of the Responsible Trustee

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