When the Board President Should (and Shouldn’t) Vote
Vol. 16 No. 9
The Board President is the person responsible for conducting Board meetings. Often, however, the President is torn between the desire to express personal views on an issue and the need to generate and moderate discussion in an unbiased manner.
Consequently, Presidents are apt to refrain from casting their own votes to avoid losing a dimension of their leadership by revealing how they stand (perhaps occasionally in opposition to the Head). How should a Board President behave? The President has the right—and even the responsibility—to vote, but sensitivity to the leadership role is appropriate.
First, let’s consider standing subcommittee meetings. Here, like the School Head, the President serves in an ex officio capacity with voting privileges, but should not attend all meetings or feel obligated to attend any given portion. Rather, attendance can be based on the President's time, interest, and concern. Committee work, for the most part, should be delegated to others.
When attending, the President should fully participate and vote. No one should feel the President is there in a supervisory or evaluating mode. The chair of the committee, not the President, is in charge of the meeting, so there is no conflict of roles. The President should share in discussions. There should be high levels of trust and respect—not concerns of committee management. And the President’s vote cannot be the deciding one.
At full Board meetings, the President’s major task is orchestration. To appear strongly committed to one side or another in every decision diminishes member faith in “an even playing field.” A President who states his or her position often and early in a debate can be accused of trying to force the Board or assume more than the power of the single allotted vote. A President should consider:
- abstaining in voice votes;
- expressing personal opinions only after all other views have been aired, and then only if he or she has a viewpoint or insight that has not yet been shared; and
- refraining from participation in any “straw votes.”
If the President feels strongly about a major and controversial issue, ask the Vice President to conduct the meeting during the discussion and the vote. No one should think the President’s personal conviction influences selecting who is given the opportunity to speak at a particular moment or in suggesting when to take a vote.