AGB President & CEO Update: Trust as a Strategic Asset

By Henry Stoever October 5, 2020 May 12th, 2021 Blog Post

With the fall semester underway for many institutions, I’m aware of the unprecedented challenges confronting your board, leadership team, faculty, and staff as you collaboratively address immediate short-term challenges. At the same time, although I know how significant these challenges are, I encourage you also to devote time and energy to those strategic matters that are essential to creating a long-term, sustainable, and vibrant learning community. In particular, I urge you to conduct all discussions within the context of establishing trust as a strategic asset and that, as part of establishing trust, you will leverage AGB’s Justice, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiative.

Trust as a Strategic Asset

I am sure that you will agree with me that trust is a critical component for all boards and executive teams seeking to govern and lead effectively, and that trust is best earned through collaboration and communication, especially to seek common understanding and agreement. Trust can, for example, influence a board’s ability to recruit new board members, augment an institution’s ability to enroll and retain students, hire and motivate experienced faculty and staff, and inspire current and potential donors and partners.

During times like these, your board may also need to rethink and even alter your strategic direction and priorities in order to create a financially sound future. In such instances, trust can mean the difference between an institution undertaking necessary operational adjustments successfully due to campus and community support, or seeing such efforts fail because of confusion or suspicion. For example, a number of campuses today are in turmoil because some staff, students, alumni, and faculty believe that resources they deem essential for safety during the pandemic are not available. A lack of trust can become an acute risk factor that affects how well an enterprise will function.

Boards and senior executives need to actively work at building trust as an important component of leadership. It is an essential part of developing and executing long-term strategies. As your board, leadership team, staff, and faculty work together to refine your financial model, sharpen your mission, and reflect on other key decisions, my hope is that you will always consider cultivating relationships that yield the trust needed to successfully implement board/executive team decisions.

There are a multitude of ways to grow trust between leadership and stakeholders. In this regard, I encourage you to read this article in the September/October 2020 issue of Trusteeship in which Miami University President Gregory Crawford discusses trust, unity, and wisdom. I also encourage you to work with the faculty and others in your community to develop policies and practices that exemplify your institution’s commitment to enhancing campus health and safety, upholding shared governance, fostering an inclusive culture, and achieving clear and comprehensive communication. Regular and transparent communications will help ensure that the board’s policies reflect the best thinking of your campus community. In short, intentional efforts to strengthen trust now will pay dividends over time.

Trust and Justice, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Another way of building trust is to ensure that everyone on campus feels a sense of inclusion and belonging. Over the last several months, I have shared how important AGB believes justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion (JDE&I) are to higher education and our society. AGB also believes that if we are to encourage boards and presidents to leverage JDE&I to strengthen their teams, operations, and students’ success, we must practice what we recommend to others. The AGB team and I are working to promote JDE&I in every facet of our work, and I’m pleased to announce the launch of AGB’s Justice, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiative.

This initiative will showcase our promise to uphold JDE&I within AGB’s own organizational culture and to embrace these values across our practices, programs, services, and research. Trust and JDE&I will be woven into strategic focus areas in all our forthcoming programs and resources, including our upcoming Foundation Leadership Forum (January 25–27), Board Professionals Conference (April 6–8), and National Conference on Trusteeship (April 12–14).

Please let me know how AGB can enhance its JDE&I Initiative to empower your boards and teams to build trust, confidence, and belonging within your communities, and how your board and institutional policies can manifest program and campus engagement. I look forward to your suggestions.

I am immensely grateful for your partnership, and I thank you for your collaboration and commitment to strategic board leadership.