Noses in, fingers out.” That’s what we’ve suggested to boards in the most simplistic way when discussing the board’s role and responsibilities – a perennial topic for In Trust magazine, In Trust Center webinars, and our Resource Consulting work. Considering a board’s continual development cycle, board education must always include attention to the clarity of roles and responsibilities.

For example, what is the role of the board and the president in decision making? That’s easy to answer in the abstract. But has your board and leadership team worked to address this question directly?

I was struck by “Decisions, Decisions,” an article by Richard Chait in the January/February 2017 issue of Trusteeship from the Association of Governing Boards. Many of us are familiar with Chait's work on Governance as Leadership, written with colleagues William Ryan and Barbara Taylor. In “Decisions, Decisions,” he offers a process that boards can adapt to gain clarity about their school’s decision making authority. Working through the process outside of a time of crisis or challenge offers an opportunity for sensitive conversations that might otherwise not occur.

Chait suggests the following criteria for deciding who decides:

  • Fiduciary responsibility.
  • Risk.
  • Consistency.
  • Symbolism.
  • Competence.
  • Support.
  • Morale.

He explains that these criteria can serve as a reference for the leadership team when the locus of a decision is unclear.

Engaging in a process of examining hypothetical decisions and challenging the leadership team to identify who is the decision maker in any given example will better prepare institutional leaders for the real future decisions that they will make.

Are you confident about who will make each decision for your school? If not, consider reading Richard Chait’s article as a starting point.

Other resources that may be helpful: “Wise Stewards: The Roles and Responsibilities of Boards in Theological Education” and Governance as Leadership.