Board Chairpersons Can Make a Difference: 12 Tips to Succeed and Be Effective

By Curtin, Daniel F. | Momentum, September/October 2014 | Go to article overview

Board Chairpersons Can Make a Difference: 12 Tips to Succeed and Be Effective


Curtin, Daniel F., Momentum


IF A SCHOOL IS TO HAVE A SUCCESSFUL BOARD, it starts with the chairperson. The chairperson's role is to set the tone for the board's work and to lead it for the benefit of the school. The chairperson must be truly committed to the mission of the institution, possess knowledge of the work and issues related to the institution, and conduct board meetings that make effective use of the time and talents of members.

During my career in Catholic education, I have had the privilege of serving on a number of boards and councils of education at the national, elementary school, secondary school and university levels. At the university and secondary school levels, I served as a chairperson, benefiting from the valuable experience, organizational skills, and leadership styles of past chairpersons. Most were excellent role models. One advisory board I served on did not have a chairperson. Meetings were conducted by a senior staff member who was not very open to advice or suggestions from members. Another board's chairperson was very laid back and allowed the president of the institution to conduct the meetings. This was not effective. As a result of the chairperson's poor leadership skills (and inappropriate delegation), the board became dysfunctional. At another school, the board chairperson showed extraordinary leadership by using the skills of board members and others to address critical issues facing the school's future. That school has been able to avoid closing.

I offer here a dozen tips to help board and/or council chairpersons to be successful and effective:

IThe chairperson serves as the leader of the board and is responsible for coordinating its work through various committees in collaboration with the school administrator. One of your first tasks at the beginning of each year is to conduct an orientation session for new board members. Orientation should highlight everything board members need to know to gain a good understanding of the board's work, including but not limited to a review of the board's governing bylaws.

2 You and all board members should possess a working knowledge of the school's mission statement and discuss it at board meetings on a regular basis. This allows board members to have a basis of understanding of their work as it relates to the school's broader mission.

3 It s important to develop a good working relationship with the school's administrator by meeting on a regular basis. This helps in planning the agenda and prevents surprises at meetings or in the school. A strong working relationship between the school's administrator and the board chairperson is a must. To be successful you must function as a team.

4 Collaborate with the executive committee and the school administrator to develop a schedule of board meeting dates for the year, including meetings of the executive committee. Make use of the board's executive committee to focus on key issues related to the school and plan the agendas for board meetings with a timeframe for each item. By including the chairs of various board committees, the executive committee can plan board meeting agendas to include presentations of the key issues addressed by these committees, whether for information only or for action by the board. The chairperson's task is to stay with the agenda and move it along, according to the time allocation. Otherwise, various issues and sidebars can occur with the result that the agenda becomes useless and critical topics are not discussed.

3 Consider the skills, talents and professional experiences of board members when making committee assignments. It doesn't hurt to add non-board members to committees to strengthen and bring outside assistance to their work. …

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