THE BLOG
05/01/2013 11:40 am ET Updated Jul 01, 2013

Realize the Board's Limitations

More importantly, get the board to recognize its limitations. If an institution is to thrive, the board must accept the dividing line between the administration and the board.

When I first became a college president, the board seemed to understand its functions were to set policy, promote and support the college, and hire and fire the president. Today, trustees all-too-often cross the line between administrative and board duties (they especially like doing so when it comes to athletics). It takes a strong president and a good board chair to remind trustees that the best approach is "noses in, hands off," since trustees have neither the time nor the knowledge to run the institution.

Trustees who believe in seagull management -- where they swoop in three or four times a year, drop their deposit, and fly off -- are an annoyance. However, trustees who meddle in administrative matters undermine presidential authority and become a danger to the college. By calling staff directly (unless first clearing the call with the president), they evidence both that they have too much time on their hands and that they have no confidence in the college's president.

In the final analysis, the most important thing a board does is to hire and fire the president. If the board cannot rely on the president, if it feels it needs to run the college, it should get a new president.

On half-a-dozen occasions over the years, I said to my board chair that, if he or another member of the board wanted to run the college, I'd find something else to do. In each case, the chair quickly backed off or got another trustee to back off.

If you are lucky, you won't run into trustees who cross the line between administration and trusteeship, and you won't find yourself in a position where you have to offer to resign to restore the proper order. However, you should not hesitate to offer to quit, if a member of the board is, in effect, trying to do your job or preventing you from doing it effectively.

Your institution can only have one president at a time. You were hired to be president, so act the part.

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