Essential Expectations of the Board President

ISM has, in the past, provided counsel about those basic observable behaviors that underlay the Head’s strategic goals in and through the support and evaluation process. In this companion article, we consider the position of the Board President.

It is, of course, true that the Board President is a volunteer and not a paid employee of the school. At the same time, the Board President’s position is a key strategic function. And the partnership of the Board President and the School Head is the key strategic partnership in the school.

This is different from the relationship between the School Head and the Chair of the Head Support and Evaluation Committee where coaching, mentoring, and evaluation occur simultaneously and the success of the one is, at least in part, a function of the success of the other.

The Board President’s relationship, given its strategic nature, is rather more formal.

When the Board President is effective, the Board of Trustees is most likely to operate within its strategic boundaries, support and evaluate their only employee effectively, and ensure that their deliberations are constrained and inspired by the Board’s strategic plan and strategic financial plan.

When the Board President is ineffective, the Board of Trustees is more likely to lack a clear strategic focus, operate by “loudest voice” influence, lack a consistent and secure relationship with the School Head, and stray into operational areas.

As the Committee on Trustees (COT) considers the Board’s leadership funnel, the qualities of the Board President clearly loom large. Who are the people on the Board who have the demeanor, the skills, and the presence to be an effective Board leader and strategic partner to the School Head? Who are the people in the leadership funnel that the COT might imagine in that role in the years to come? And are there aids to coach current and potential Board Presidents?

As Chair of the COT, consider the following Essential Expectations of the Board President (edited as need be) as one level of thinking about this challenge. They are key performance indicators on which a healthy professional relationship can be built and which are based on established research.

They can be used by the current Board President to reflect on his or her professional growth, for the COT to use in discussion with potential recruits to the role, and in amended form for discussion with the Board in regard to Trustee expectations. They serve as a reminder that, regardless of technical capacity, the Board President’s success will be determined by the relationship fundamentals underlying the performance of both School Head and Board.

While no list can guarantee a healthy relationship between the Board President and School Head, the existence of such a list offers a fruitful way for these two strategic partners to interact as well as an avenue for useful conversation between the COT and the current or future Board Presidents.

We note that the essential expectations avoid using personal characteristics (such as honesty, confidence, and the like). Our previous research noted: Board leadership, then, in contrast to School Head leadership, is much more a function of what the individual leader does than of what she or he is (or appears to others to be). Should you edit this document, we recommend that you also avoid such additions.

The Board President is a key volunteer with professional obligations no less important than those of the School Head. Effective schools, in our experience, always have Board Presidents who embody these essential expectations in their performance and then add their own brand of leadership and skills to this mix. The Committee on Trustees can use this list to provide predictability and support to their Board President and thus ultimately to the school itself.

Essential Expectations of the Board President

  1. Support and act in accordance with the school’s mission and values.
  2. Lead the Board through a quadrennially developed strategic plan/strategic financial plan.
  3. Orally and/or in writing explain the Board Agenda annually and follow up with Committee Chairs regularly regarding progress towards committee charges.
  4. Place great emphasis on continual strategic Board training and education.
  5. Give public positive reinforcement to deserving Board members and others.
  6. Uphold professional standards of personal presentation, punctuality, professional courtesy, and discretion.
  7. Regularly attend the meetings of the Head Support and Evaluation Committee (and/or otherwise meet regularly with the School Head).
  8. Ensure the school is compliant in risk management, including its by laws and charter.
  9. Honor the confidentiality of School Head, school, student, and employee information.

Effective __________

To Work On ____________________ [Items numbered]

Signed, Chair, COT ________________________________ Date _____________

Acknowledged, Board President _______________________ Date_____________

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