There has been a lot of discussion about the importance of having the “right” people around the governing body table. The governing body will only be as good as the people who serve on it. Question is, how do you recognise, identify or define a “right” governor. Here are my thoughts on the qualities a person needs to possess in order to be considered the right board member. For convenience I shall be using “he” when referring to governors but that does not mean that I consider only the male human species to be the right governors!
1. He should be able to understand what is meant by support as well as challenge and be prepared to provide both. This is not to say that as soon as you join the board you will know how to do this. Some people instinctively know while others need to learn. As long as you are willing to learn you are the right governor. Many people find the challenge bit of the job hard, but that is the most important bit! Many people think that the word challenge means you have to be confrontational. That is not the case. Challenge just means asking the right questions to get all the information you need to perform your job. I use the word “job” deliberately. The nature of governance has moved on. You will be held to account for the students and the school you are responsible for. The days when you could say, “I’m just a volunteer” have long gone. Lord Nash brought this to home when he said, “Volunteer does not mean amateur”. If you consider being a governor as a job then you will realise how important it is that you have the right skills to do the job effectively. You will appreciate that this job, like any other, needs you to keep up to date and get trained in those aspects when you fell you lack the required degree of knowledge.
2. He should be committed to doing the best that he can. This will involve many things. Training is one, as I mentioned above. The other is regular attendance at meetings. This does not mean just turning up! Governors need to be much more than, to use a crude expression, bums on seats! You need to prepare for the meeting. You need to have read all the papers beforehand. You need to have actioned whatever you were asked to do at previous meetings.
3. He should pull his weight! Governance is a huge and complex undertaking. Every member of the board should do his fair share of the work. The right governor will volunteer to do some of the tasks that have to be done. This may be monitoring visits, learning walks, attending school events and taking up a specific role (such as the SEN Governor).
4. He should understand the difference between being strategic and operational. The right governor is one who can be described as “eyes on, hands off” or “strategically engaged, operationally disengaged”.
5. He will be a team player. The governing body is a corporate body and each and every member needs to understand this. He
(a) Cannot do anything he has not be delegated to do
(b) Once a decision has been made, then that is the corporate decision and he needs to abide by it. He is allowed to express his opinion (and should!) during the discussion stage. Once a decision is reached, even if that wasn’t his preferred option, he has abide by it and carry it through.
6. He should be able to speak his mind. He should be able to bring up a difficult topic during a meeting and only during a meeting! This goes hand in hand with the point (b) I made above. If he feels strongly about something he should be able to speak up at the meeting. If the others don’t agree then he should accept it and not carry on the conversation outside the boardroom.
7. He should be able to recognise and manage conflict of interests. There will be times when there will be conflicts of interests. The right governor is one who can recognise when these situations arise and knows what to do when this happens.
8. He must be a person of the highest integrity.
9. He must understand principles of accountability, probity and confidentiality.
10. If he is a board member in an Academy he must understand that he has statutory duties as a Director under Companies Act.
So, to summarise the “right” governor is one who
- Provides support and challenge
- Has high levels of commitment
- Pulls his weight
- Is strategic and not operational
- Is a team player
- Speaks his mind
- Recognises when there may be conflicts of interest and knows what to do when they occur
- Understands integrity, probity, confidentiality and accountability
- Understands statutory duties
The above is by no means an exhaustive list. I’m sure you can add more to the list so please do because for good governance getting the right people around the table matters.
Neil Yates (@neilayates) commented on Twitter and said, “I’m beginning to think that commitment & involvement are far more important than transferable expertise from other sectors”.