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A Letter to New Presidents

A Letter to New Presidents

Dear New President, First, congratulations on your appointment. I wish you much success in your presidency. Please forgive the unsolicited advice that follows; however, I (as well as your board) want to ensure you have a successful transition. While you have much on your plate, please prioritize governance and be intentional about engaging the board constructively, early, and often in your presidency. Yes, there is much to do during your initial year, and you have an extensive range of stakeholders to meet. You also likely feel as though you have spent significant time with the board during the search process.  But you and the board are in a honeymoon period.

The board likes you; after all, they just hired you. And you like the board (after all, they just hired you in all their wisdom). Yet the feeling of a honeymoon can be deceiving.

A quarter of new presidents had no interaction with boards before becoming president.

If you are like the majority of new presidents, your previous interactions with a board have been limited to staffing a board committee. Governance takes on different nuances in your current position. Here are some things to consider as you establish your presidency.

  • Spend time with the board and its leaders. While time is your most precious resource, still make the effort to engage board members individually and as a group. Getting to know each personally will pay dividends. Get to know their talents and dispositions.
  • Learn the principles of what constitutes good governance and do an informal assessment of the board against these standards. A strong board contributes much to an effective presidency; a weak board does just the opposite.
  • Understand your role in developing the board, but know that it is a shared responsibility with board leadership. While you are helping the board improve, keep in mind that at the same time the board will evaluate your success. The relationship between president and board is complex and one that demands a careful eye and close attention.
  • Talk to other presidents about governance. Wisdom from experience is valuable. That said, boards, are like faculties: each has its own culture and history. So rather than look for absolutes, look for lessons that might be applied to your situation.
  • Finally, think about what you need from the board both today and over the next three to five years. The board will likely play a different role over the course of your presidency as your leadership evolves. Plan accordingly, expect change.

I wish you all the best. Please let me know if and how AGB might be of assistance. Peter Eckel Vice President, Programs and Research

AGB's institutes are an ideal opportunity for board leaders and presidents to focus on their working relationship and larger issues facing their institution.  Learn more about upcoming institutes on our website.
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