Think independently and act collectively.
Principle 5 supports the fundamental function of leading by example through making your own judgments and reflecting the highest level of accountability. To ensure independence, you must:
- Constructively challenge and support the chief executive, administration, and committees. Think for yourself, reach your own conclusions, and share your perspective productively.
- Speak up on important issues, even if they are uncomfortable or unpopular. The board and institution lose out—or may even be put at risk—when trustees remain silent.
- Express your concerns diplomatically to the appropriate person(s) at an appropriate time. Be intentional about what you communicate, how, when, where, and to whom.
“Most of our trustees are alumni. They come with their own fraternity affiliations. They come with their own school affiliations. They have their friends inside the university. It’s very easy for a trustee to be coerced into taking up somebody’s mantle. But they are here to look out for this institution as a whole, not any subgroup or any other people who might have a different opinion. Believe me, opinions are fine. Everybody has them, and they are all welcome.
But when we as trustees have to make a decision, it has to be about the well-being of the university as a whole.”
—Trustee, Public University
- To what extent does board culture encourage candor and robust discussion? Do you feel that all voices are heard and respected? Do you feel comfortable expressing your opinion?
- How will you determine which issues are worth speaking up in favor of or against, regardless of their popularity? When, where, and how will you raise sensitive issues?
- How open is the board to dissenting opinions? How are tensions among board members handled?
- To whom do you turn if you have concerns related to the president? Concerns about the board chair?
- What happens when the board and the administration disagree?
This guide conveys the essence of highly effective trusteeship in a concise, easy-to-use format. It defines the attitudes and actions of highly effective board members, and provides insight into three fundamental functions:
- Understand governance by embracing all of your responsibilities in a structure of shared leadership.
- Lead by example by upholding the highest standards of integrity.
- Think strategically by focusing on what matters most to the long-term success of the whole enterprise.