With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility – Advice for Board Chairs

By Joan Feiereisen, Director of Governance & Board Leadership

Board Chair Advice

Simmons Lettre’s recent blog post “Thoughts from an Outgoing Board Chair” on the Charter Board Partners’ website reminded me of one of our most engaging workshop sessions this past year. A panel of three of the most successful and experienced school board chairs in Milwaukee, Jose Olivieri of Bruce Guadalupe Community School, Peter Bruce from Urban Day School, and Mary Diez of Carmen High School, shared their collective wisdom with board members and heads of schools. They echoed many of Simmons’ musings and added a few others. A sampling:

  • You’re not just one of the gang anymore – When you are a “regular” board member, you can sometimes coast at board meetings, surreptitiously check your email, come (a bit) unprepared, perhaps not read every report. But as the chair, you have to be totally on top of your game, ready to lead discussion, engage other members, ask probing questions. You simply can’t flip the “off” switch.
  • Don’t let your Executive Committee get out of hand – As Chair, you will head up this important committee. It is a critical group for being able to come together quickly in a crisis, but don’t let it become a “board within a board.” Members not on the Executive Committee will wonder what they are there for if this group becomes too powerful.
  • Be sure to have a capable #2 in place – As Spider Man learned, with great power comes great responsibility. Being Board Chair can be a lonely job and it’s important to have a strong Vice Chair or Chair Elect to work with. Not only will you have another mind working to problem solve and trouble shoot, you are also providing on-the-job training for the person who will inherit your position.
  • Take time to celebrate – Board work is hard and celebrating success provides encouragement for taking on bigger challenges in the future. Too often, accomplishments are lost in the midst of financial statements and bylaw revisions. So don’t forget to break out the bubbly, cue the noisemakers, and let them eat cake!

Make sure to read Simmons’ blog post too and then comment below and share your insight about being a board chair (or, being on a board with a great chair).


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