Taking a Business Approach to School Board Relationships

July 05, 2017

In “Managing the Nonprofit Organization,” Peter Drucker devotes a chapter to the relationship between senior management and the board of directors. He trades thoughts with Dr. David Allan Hubbard, who for 30 years was president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Drucker’s conversation with Hubbard, while related to nonprofit organization boards, has many key points that relate strongly to K-12 superintendent and board relationships including:

Don’t try to hide controversy.

When an issue arises that is or could easily be controversial, it belongs at the board level precisely for that reason. And the sooner the better.

Follow the 110 percent bad news; 90 percent good news principle.

When reporting bad news to your board, give them 110 percent of the information you think they’ll need. When reporting good news, give them 90 percent. This is how you compensate for the tendency to minimize bad news, consciously or unconsciously.

Don’t let the board or the superintendent read about it in the media first.

Social media moves information—and misinformation—at broadband speed. Board members and administrators should try to make sure they connect with one another before a critical issue hits the media. If it does break online first, get in touch right away to explain.

Empathize with a board member’s attachment to an outmoded but entrenched policy.

Hubbard says he tried to change board members’ minds without making them feel they were completely letting go of cherished goals. “Those things are best done one on one,” Hubbard says. “Presentations to an entire board without a lot of spadework, when feelings are strong and attitudes are entrenched, is very difficult.”

Do your spadework.

Working one-on-one with board members on specific issues between meetings gives you an ally when the meetings come around. For example, if you achieve consensus with a committee leader, that person can carry the conversation in the board meeting, while the superintendent is there to provide clarity and support, as needed.

Don’t play politics.

This may seem counter-intuitive in a public school system with elected board members. Of course it’s a political process. But “playing politics” isn’t a productive reaction to a political environment. Education leaders should try to remain above the fray and maintain personal integrity.

For more tips on developing relationships with the school board, download the eBook, The Business Approach to K-12 School Board Relationships.

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