“What’s a fair price to pay for a healthy relationship with your board chair?” My opening question kicking off the board-superintendent relationship building segment of the High-Impact Governing Work Session I presented for Southern Fairfield County (Connecticut) superintendents a couple of weeks ago raised more than a few eyebrows. The board chair-superintendent partnership is a staple of my workshops and superintendent coaching sessions for the simple reason that this very precious relationship is one of the keys to a superintendent’s success as chief executive of her district. And opening with the idea that you’ve got to pay your chair to be a reliable partner is a great attention getter. Since I’m obviously not talking about real currency, what do I mean?
Perhaps the most powerful adhesive you can use to cement the working relationship with your board chair, in my experience, is what I call non-monetary compensation, which comes in two forms: (1) generally providing your board chair with normal ego satisfaction; and (2) helping your board chair realize specific professional goals and experiences. One of the nine breakout groups we employed in the Connecticut work session identified a number of practical ways you can “pay” your board chair with ego satisfaction. For example, you can pay close personal attention to your chair by meeting with him one-on-one over breakfast or lunch at least once a month. You can go out of your way to make sure your chair is well-prepared to lead every board meeting by, among other things, meeting with her to go over the agenda of the upcoming board meeting and ensuring that she thoroughly understands each of the recommendations that will be presented at the meeting.
You can showcase your chair in board meetings by drafting a regular chair’s report to the board as a companion piece to your superintendent’s report. You can make sure your chair receives frequent recognition for her work in leading the board, by spotlighting her in the district newsletter, and you can make sure your chair is frequently involved in your meetings with critical stakeholders, such as the mayor, county commission chair, editor of the local newspaper, CEO of the chamber of commerce, general manager of the transit authority, and the like. These aren’t earth shaking, time consuming steps, but they do require that you’re constantly thinking of ways to make your chair’s leadership experience more ego satisfying.
If you make a concerted effort to get to know your chair really well early in her term, you’ll be aware of specific leadership goals and interests that you can transform into non-monetary compensation. One example we discussed in the Southern Fairfield County work session is helping your chair achieve his goal of becoming more effective at the podium by securing speaking engagements for him, assisting him in preparing his remarks, and even holding “dress rehearsals” in your conference room so he can hone his presentation skills. Another is helping your chair climb the volunteer ladder in your state school board association on her way to becoming a member of the association board. And another is recommending your chair’s appointment to the new economic and community development corporation board, in light of her intense interest in economic development strategy.
In my experience, “paying” your board chair in these very practical, inexpensive ways will yield a handsome return in terms of a really solid partnership with one of your preeminent stakeholders. You can be sure, by the way, that I will make the board chair-superintendent partnership a major discussion item in the preconference workshops I’ll be presenting at the AASA and NSBA 2020 annual meetings. I hope to see many of you at one or both of these sessions.