The most common mistakes that I have found
trustees to often make and that is to attempt to govern without fully
understanding and appreciating the values and clearly understanding the
mission of an institution. I see a mission and values as really being
central to governance and if you don’t understand that, then it is very hard to
understand the rationale, the basis, the foundation, that premise upon which you
often make decisions. And of course the simplest way to deal with that is to
make sure that you prepare yourself. There’s always more to know than you
will ever know, but make sure that you understand and and truly appreciate that
which you do know and don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t fully understand.
I think that is the most significant mistake. Second, I think,
mistake that trustees often make and that is attempting to micromanage. In my
forty plus years of experience, I’ve come to believe that there is clearly a
governance lane and there’s an administrative lane. And it’s incumbent
upon the president to respect the governance lane and for the trustees to
respect the administrative lane. And that’s not to say that they won’t have
good conversation, good dialogue, but I think it’s very important for trustees,
board of governors, whatever name the governance structure is known, for them not to get themselves involved in micromanaging, and to respect that.
Because that’s the only way you can really hold a president or chancellor accountable — that is to be clear about the expectations and then do your level
best to support what you need to support to ensure their success. I use the analogy of a race, and in order
to run a good race, you have to make sure that you get out of the blocks properly.
And so it is with the trustee. A trustee has to be prepared properly but it’s
incumbent upon the administration: the secretary of the board, the president of
the university, members of the cabinet to make sure that board members are
provided with the kind of information that they need, not only just the
contemporary information but the historical kind of information about the
institution’s accomplishments, its challenges, its strengths, its weaknesses. And that way the trustee can be better prepared to engage in dialogue,
deliberations on whatever the topic may very well be. And so I think that
administrators, the leaders of the institution, have an obligation to make
sure that relevant information is provided. And trustees have to make sure
that they avail themselves, make time available to go through a proper
orientation. Otherwise you find yourself starting over repeatedly throughout your
tenure.