The most important governance relationship at any school is that which exists between the president and the chair of the board. As Robert Andringa and Ted Engstrom describe in their Nonprofit Board Answer Book, "If these two organizational leaders have a private compact to do whatever is necessary to make each other successful, the success of the board and the organization will follow." The chair and the executive must be working partners and that requires working on the partnership. Unfortunately, too many presidents and board chairs simply assume the other knows what they need to succeed and then become frustrated when their expectations go unmet.

Three years ago, In Trust set out to address this problem with workshops for presidents and board chairs in conjunction with the Practicing Good Faith Governance seminars. Campus heads and the heads of boards were encouraged to speak their minds about what they need from their partners in governance. The long list of desired characteristics on both sides of the relationship is summarized here as a starting point for your own conversation about president/board chair expectations.

What Presidents Want from the Chair

  • Friendship
  • Understanding of role and tasks of the president
  • Trust and confidence
  • Candid feedback, including an annual performance review
  • A trustworthy confidante who holds lightly to personal agenda
  • A clear statement of the board's expectations of the president
  • Attention to his or her physical, mental, financial, and spiritual health
  • Action orientation
  • Deep loyalty to the school, particularly during times of institutional stress and financial need
  • At least some say in the selection of board members, and most especially, the chair
  • A reality test of his or her take on the external environment
  • Cheerful assistance with fund-raising
  • Willingness to use personal network on behalf of the school
  • Ability to hold other board members accountable for their performance
  • Skill of managing a good meeting

What Chairs Want from the President

  • A mutually agreed upon relationship
  • Integrity and faithfulness in the execution of his or her duties
  • A clear and compelling vision for the future of the school and how the board fits into the picture
  • A bias toward action
  • A written description of the duties of the chair
  • Regular feedback about
    the quality of leadership he or she is providing the board
  • Commitment to board education
  • For the president to be "real," to be vulnerable and open
  • Candid assessment of what the president needs to do his or her job well
  • A heads-up about the president's short- and mid-term goals for the school
  • Appropriate, timely information in the simplest form
  • Careful judgment about what comes to the board to avoid pulling board members into management details
  • Regular communication in person, by telephone, or via e-mail (whatever fits the situation)
  • Resources and training to assist board members as they represent the school
  • No surprises!

Top Topics
Roles & Responsibilities
Board Essentials

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