The April 4 post at this blog, “What About ‘Rogue’ Board Members?”, talked about tried and true approaches to reining in these trouble makers who march to their own governing tune at their own tempo, with little concern about the impact on their board colleagues. As our readers well know, their behavior can erode a school board’s governing performance and poison its internal environment, while in the process occasionally even tarnishing a school district’s image in the community. The most effective approach to fencing your rogue board members in and preventing them from wreaking havoc, according to the April 4 post, is fully developing your board’s governing architecture. In a nutshell, this involves such elements as a detailed description of your board’s governing responsibilities; a well-designed standing committee structure; strong self-management capacity; and well-defined processes for meaningfully engaging board members in governing work. The good news is that systematic, serious board development has proved highly effective in both corralling rogues and preventing them from becoming full-blown trouble makers. But, of course, such long-term solutions do require a significant investment of time and often money for consulting assistance.
I’m often asked in governance workshops I present what common antidotes to rogue board members have proved generally ineffective in practice. Three popular quick fixes top the futility list in my experience: training; the interpersonal relations approach to building your board’s “culture;” and the codification of board governing policies (often called the “policy governance” approach).
Formal training, which typically involves lecturing board members about appropriate and inappropriate governing behavior, is arguably the least effective approach in practice because it turns board members into passive audience members who at the end of the training session tend to feel very little ownership of what they’ve heard. It’s basically “in one ear, out the other.” So why is it still widely applied in dealing with rogues? In a nutshell, training is the simplest and cheapest of the quick fixes. What it can do well is make participants aware of significant developments in the art of K-12 governance and built an appetite for serious development, but, alone, it won’t make much of an impact on roguish behavior.
Efforts to transform a board’s “culture” tend to involve more active board member engagement – typically via interpersonal exercises aimed at breaking down barriers, making deeper emotional connections, fostering greater understanding, and the like. While this kind of interaction can be much more energizing than formal training, in practice it has little staying power. The glow wears off quickly back in the workaday world. As they say, Monday always comes, no matter how inspiring the weekend retreat might have been.
The so-called policy governance approach usually generates a manual of board governing policies aimed at divvying up the governing labor – distinguishing between board members’ and executive team members’ responsibilities in such governing areas as strategic planning, defining the limits of board and CEO authority, and the like. This can be a useful first step in board development – creating a foundation for serious board capacity building – but policies, which are essentially operating rules, won’t alone play the governing game. Without fully developing the board’s architecture as I’ve described it above, policies have proved to be a weak tool for corralling rogues.
If only quick fixes like these really did make a significant difference in the governing realm, dealing with rogues would be a piece of cake. But that’s too much to ask of real life! By the way, my newest K-12 leadership book, Building a High-Impact Board-Superintendent Partnership, which Rowman & Littlefield will publish in September 2019, provides detailed, tested guidance for controlling rogue board members. You can learn more about the book at: https://www.dougeadie.com/building-a-high-impact-board-superintendent-partnership/.