Building the Governance Partnership – Book Review

For this blog post, I thought I would try something a little different. While looking at the website BoardSource the book Building the Governance Partnership caught my attention. Given my strong interest in this topic BoardSource generously offered to send me an online copy to review on my blog

First, though, I need to clarify that the intended audience for the book is CEOs of non-profit organisations with appointed or volunteer boards. School district Superintendents/CEOs and trustees will notice that some of the points do not apply to publicly elected school boards. That said, the book still offers a lot of useful advice for enhancing the governance partnership between the CEO and the board.

The authors (Sherrill K. Williams and Kathleen A. McGinnis) have divided the book into chapters that cover key topics related to CEO/board collaboration, such as; mission development, organisational culture, cultivating relationships, communications between the CEO and the board, roles and responsibilities, and structuring the board’s work. Each chapter ends with perspectives from a CEO and a Board Chair. The book also provides multiple appendices containing useful documents and examples.

It is not my intention to summarise the entire 117-page book. The following, however, is a small collection of parts I found interesting and of potential value to school district CEOs and boards.

  • Research done by the authors indicates that on average CEOs spend approximately 22 hours a month on strictly board related matters such as preparing for and attending meetings, responding to requests for information, compiling reports etc. I would be interested in learning how this compares with the experience of school district CEOs.
  • The book reinforces the importance of vision and passion for both the CEO and the board – not just in the production of vision statements and strategic plans, but in making sure that the vision and passion are deeply embedded in the whole organisation and reflected in everything it does.
  • There are several tips and reminders for keeping the main thing the main thing and not getting drowned in the daily minutia of the work.
  • I liked the point that environmental scanning is one of the most valuable services a CEO can provide the organisation and the board. Helping board members and staff be aware of the internal and external factors impacting the organisation keeps everyone aware of needs, opportunities and potential threats while minimising surprises (boards don’t like surprises!).
  • The chapter on cultivating a trusting and respectful relationship between the CEO and the board is particularly helpful and very germane to school districts. As I have said in several of my articles and presentations to trustees, nothing gets done in a school district without the CEO and there is no successful school district where that relationship is not strong.
  • Just a few of the book’s many bits of good advice to CEOs include:
    • Don’t try to do everything yourself.
    • Don’t hide behind the board or use it as an excuse for the challenges you may face.
    • Don’t drown the board in information.
    • Don’t focus on or favour some board members over others. Every board member should have the same information and access.
    • Don’t avoid uncomfortable situations or sharing bad news with the board.
    • Don’t get too personal with board members.
    • Information is everything. Knowing when, how and how much to communicate can make a huge difference.
    • Watch for warning signs in yourself or the board that might indicate the relationship is faltering.
    • Help the board evaluate your performance and its own.

If you look past the few parts that are not relevant to elected boards, the book can serve as a useful guide to building that critical governance partnership – even for experienced CEOs and boards. For more information about governance head on over to the BoardSource website – and also this blog

Stephen Hansen



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