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Putting Your Own Oxygen Mask on First

Putting Your Own Oxygen Mask on First

Guest post by Ellen Chaffee, AGB senior fellow and consultant. Chaffee was president of Valley City State University for 15 years and served nine of those years simultaneously as president of Mayville State University.
"Frankly, I have been very surprised how ill-prepared I was to be a trustee."

Trustees like this one are accomplished people who rightly believe that they know how to lead. But their first term of service on a governing board can be jarring. Governance is a unique role in a complex, challenging situation.

The stronger the board, the better it can guide and support the institution.

It is no sin to be underprepared at the outset—nearly everyone is. What sets effective trustees and effective boards apart is their commitment not to stay that way—to learn not only about the institution but, equally important, to learn about governance. Some options to consider:

  • Treat presidential review and board self-assessment as parallel and synergistic processes.
  • Develop a systematic ongoing governance education program, including opportunities to talk with trustees from other places.
  • Invite trustees to assess themselves annually. Self-assess the full board periodically. Act on the results.
  • Support professional development for the board support staff.
  • Make two sets of annual board goals—one regarding the institution and the other on governance.
  • Develop an operating manual for the board with written descriptions about how the board does its business. Follow your own guidelines. Review and update the manual regularly.

Boards often think they don't have time to pay this much attention to the board itself. Do you know a coach or a math teacher who doesn't have time for the fundamentals? Good governance is fundamental to success for both the board and the institution.

Visit AGB University (AGBU) for videos and resources specifically for board development, with topics such as "Getting Started with Governance."
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