AGB President and CEO Update: How is a Board Like a Helicopter?

By AGB May 30, 2024 June 4th, 2024 Video

AGB CEO Update, June 2024

Sometimes a metaphor can help board members answer two simple questions. How can we become a better board? And how does the board’s role differ from the president’s role? In this video, you will hear Ellen Chaffee, PhD, AGB Interim President and CEO, discuss how a board is like a helicopter.

Click to Read the Video Transcript

Thank you for taking a couple of minutes with me as we enter the last month of fiscal year 24 and prepare for what promises to be an even more interesting, exciting, and challenging fall. We at AGB are privileged to partner with you on the journey.

Many boards welcome new members over the summer. Sometimes a metaphor can help you get new members off to a good start and reinforce your own understanding of 2 important questions.

How can we become a better board? And how does the board’s role differ from the president’s role? Answers to both questions can be symbolized by a metaphor I discovered over 10 years ago.

Picture a helicopter flying over a ship in the ocean. What does the ship, the helicopter, and the ocean and sky represent?

The ship is the organization you govern. It has a captain, a crew, a complicated infrastructure, and a mission. It’s taking people where they need to go.

The helicopter is your governing board. It too has a complicated infrastructure, especially with people leaving and joining the board every year, learning new tasks in a largely unfamiliar environment with people they barely know.

The ocean and sky are the changing, sometimes threatening environment. The helicopter’s higher vantage point in partnership with the captain’s expertise helps ensure that the ship successfully fulfills its mission.

Where are you? Helicopter, ship, or environment?

The first lesson embedded in this metaphor is how to become a better board. The board is responsible for the ship, of course, but also for the helicopter. Helicopters do not fly themselves. They need maintenance. They need repair. Governance is learned and practiced. It takes time, and there is always room for improvement.

The second lesson relates to the difference between governance and management. The helicopter governs with oversight, insight, and foresight. The ship captain leads and manages with expertise and delegated authority.

There is no helicopter landing pad on the ship although visits can and should be arranged. The ship needs a good helicopter. It does not need a second captain.

Whatever the future brings, AGB is here for you and with you. Please email, call, and chat with us. Explore the website, read, attend webinars and meetings. Our deeply experienced staff and consultants will help you achieve your priorities.

Your commitment to governance and leadership can take public opinion of higher education back up where it belongs. We can do that. You can do that. Excellence in governance, trusteeship, and leadership will do that.

For the sake of our students now and generations to come, I call on you to be the leader whose organization empowers vibrant higher education, inclusive democracy, and a flourishing society for everyone.

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