Criteria for Choosing the Board President

Dec 4, 2014

by Bob Thompson

The role of the president is to bring focus to board discussion and facilitate board decision-making.  To be effective the president cannot use the office of president to foster his/her own agenda.  To do so creates disharmony and mistrust.  Board members must believe that the president will not attempt to manipulate the process and the president must believe that reasoned, thoughtful, data-driven discussion will bring about the best decisions, even if he/she may not personally agree with the decision.

In a sense the board president is most effective when he/she does not act as a board member.  The president must remove him/herself from the fray of the discussion and work constantly to bring the board together as a team and seek a consensus position everyone can live with.  To accomplish these objectives a president must meet the following criteria:

    • emphasize areas of agreement
    • emphasize the benefits of working together and the corrosive effects of coalitions
    • get people to compromiseBe a consensus builder and:
    • not take sides
  1. Be strong and willing to:
    • control meetings
    • live with criticism
    • take unpopular stands
    • insist that decisions be “data driven” rather than “I think”
  2. Listen (but not necessarily accept, believe, or act on everything he/she hears)
  3. Be trustworthy, i.e.:
    • do what he/she promises to do
    • have no hidden agendas
    • always be ethical and truthful
    • always treat all board members alike and give them all the same information
  4. Work effectively with the superintendent
  5. Be secure (i.e. does not “need” to be president).  If a person has a political or personal need to be president, he/she is probably not the best person for the job.
  6. Be committed toGenerally it is best if the president serves at least two years in office.  It takes time to become a consensus builder.  It also takes time to build a comfortable, effective working relationship with the superintendent.  Changing presidents every year often keeps the board from becoming the smooth, well functioning team it must be if the district is to excel

In summary, a person should be selected to be president because he/she has the skills and values described above, not because it is his/her “turn”.  Some people can be excellent board members but are simply not cut out to be president.

Selecting the right person to be President may be second in importance only to the selection of the superintendent in determining the success of the district.  Therefore it is imperative the board take the time and effort to do it right.  Without a skilled, trustworthy leader the board can never achieve the level of teamwork and trust necessary to become a well-functioning team.  This will in turn inhibit their ability to work together to achieve their vision for the district.