New Year’s resolutions are an annual pledge by many Americans to do things differently—actually better—than the previous year. For trustees, we hope that you will consider a few New Year’s resolutions for your governance work. Like New Year’s resolutions in other parts of your life, some might be easier to keep than others.
Below are some trustee resolutions that should be easier to keep than regularly going to the gym or cutting out junk food.
Show up, consistently. Good governance requires time and attention. Boards work best when trustees participate reliably and are well-prepared. While being present at board and committee meetings (and conference calls) should seem rudimentary, I’ve heard many presidents this past year lament that some members of their board struggle with regular attendance. Trustees are asked for much in their service; the gift of time, arguably the most scare resource of any trustee, is what boards need most.
At the same time, commit to not asking extraneous questions just for the sake of speaking. Not all questions are helpful.
Ask at least one “good” question. The art of good trusteeship is the ability to ask the right question, at the right time, and in the right way. Trustees should make a commitment to ask at least one question at each board or committee meeting that moves ahead a discussion, refocuses the conversation, or helps the board or administration think in new ways. Asking the right questions is a skill—one that can be intentionally developed with practice. Over this next year, pledge to ask better questions and at times when they can be most constructive. Ask the president what you can do to assist her or him. The job of the president is difficult and many argue becoming more difficult with each passing year. At least once in 2014, ask the president what you can do to help advance a key strategic item or address a pressing problem. Simply knowing that board members are willing to help move the institution ahead will be appreciated as much as any assistance you offer. Like the old saying goes, “it’s the thought that counts.” Engage in at least one trustee development opportunity. Being an effective trustee requires up-to-date working knowledge. The nuances of higher education are many and unique to the sector (e.g. tuition discounting is not sale pricing). At the same time, higher education is becoming more complex. Effective trustees have an informed understanding about their institution and governance, and a broad familiarity with higher education. Commit to participate in at least one activity this year to bolster your knowledge. This list contains only a few things that trustees can do to be more effective. Many other good ideas exist and can easily be adopted. For trustees who pledge to do some simple things, such as the above, they can make a big difference. I hope you’ll stick to your governance resolutions (even if you stop going to the gym).