Identifying what makes a person the “right” governor matters

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.

1. They 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. They 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. They should pull their 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. They 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. They will be a team player. The governing body is a corporate body and each and every member needs to understand this. They

(a) Cannot do anything they have not be delegated to do

(b) Once a decision has been made, then that is the corporate decision and they need to abide by it. They are allowed to express their opinion (and should!) during the discussion stage. Once a decision is reached, even if that wasn’t their preferred option, they have to abide by it and carry it through.

6. They should be able to speak his mind. They 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 they feel strongly about something they should be able to speak up at the meeting. If others don’t agree then they should accept it and not carry on the conversation outside the boardroom.

7. They 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. They must be a person of the highest integrity.

9. They must understand principles of accountability, probity and confidentiality.

10. If they are a board member in an Academy they must understand that they have statutory duties as a Director under Companies Act and duties as a trustee under Charity Law.

So, to summarise the “right” governor is one who

  • Provides support and challenge
  • Has high levels of commitment
  • Pulls their weight
  • Is strategic and not operational
  • Is a team player
  • Speaks their 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”.

17 thoughts on “Identifying what makes a person the “right” governor matters

  1. Just Saying

    Surely quicker to use “they” not “he” in the first place and avoid the need to be gender specific and put a disclaimer in place?

  2. Anne Winstrom

    Thank you this is really useful. I will share with my governors.
    Anne Winstrom
    Whitchurch First School and Nursery

  3. KBell

    This is really helpful information – but I do agree that using the word ‘he’ is not really the best way to be inclusive!

    1. governingmatters Post author

      Thank you.

      I will take the comment about using “he” on board and will try and avoid the next time around. (I am not of the male gender, by the way, in case anyone was wondering!).

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