Why Consider Contracting with a Trusted Advisor?

A key relationship in a school is the one between the Chief Executive and the Board. While members of the Board are expected to be supportive of the Chief Executive, a Board's ultimate responsibility is to be objective about its employee and to evaluate his or her performance continually. The Chief Executive can often be isolated and feel unsure of how much s/he should confide in Board members. The leader may fear it would be seen as a sign of weakness to share the challenges s/he faces or to ask for the help needed to continue growing professionally and personally. It can be very lonely at the top of an academic institution. In whom does the Chief Executive confide as s/he sorts through the often politically sensitive and complex questions of institutional leadership?

In addition to supporting the Chief Executive while remaining objective, Boards face other challenges. How does a Board stay current on best practices? How does a Board ensure the institution is operated in the most effective, efficient manner and is fully implementing the policies the Board has adopted?

Through the IES Trused Advisor program, Boards can engage an experienced leader and an appropriately credentialed professional capable of winning the confidence of the Board and the Chief Executive. The right Trusted Advisor can deliver objective, reliable, confidential feedback to each party on sensitive matters.

Scope of Services

There are four discrete functions which can be combined to support the Board's and Chief Executive's work:

  • Executive Coaching: Individual sessions designed to support the institution's leader and to address specific issues
  • Best Practices Board Consultation: New Board Member Orientations, Analysis of Meeting Effectiveness, and Bylaw Review and Revision
  • Executive Assessment: Evaluation, Contract Review and Growth Plan
  • Policy and Practice Review: Examine Alignment of Philosophy, Policies and Practices, Review Board and Administrative Structure, Conduct Analysis of Effectiveness, Provide Recommendations for Improvement

Executive Coaching should be reserved for people who are critical to the organization's success or who will be critical in the future. It is far less expensive and disruptive to successfully coach a good Chief Executive toward greater productivity and effectiveness than to replace an under-performing leader or add administrative personnel to augment a Chief Executive's deficiencies.

The necessary conditions for a successful coaching relationship include a commitment of the recipient to be fully engaged in the process and the support of the Board. The leader must accept coaching as a chance to grow professionally and not as a punishment by the Board.

The most effective coaching arrangements have specific goals. They are exercises designed to address significant issues or to sort through a defined set of challenges. When done properly, coaching should be an intense engagement over an explicit period of time ranging from three months to one year.

Best Practices Board Consultation
Board orientation and training done in a vacuum has limited long-term effect on Board performance. In order for a Board to grow together, members must have ready access to a trusted advisor who can help with issues, such as unifying a Board after a contentious event. Working with the Board over a period of time and, helping Committee Chairs and officers fulfill their responsibilities can provide long-term benefits to the organization. From New Trustee Orientation to Bylaw review, a Trusted Advisor can see that all appropriate steps are being taken in any given action and that principles of good practice are being adhered to at the administrative and board levels.

Executive Assessment, Contract Review, and Growth Plan
The most effective instrument of evaluation is an in-depth review and objective report by a seasoned evaluation professional. IES recommends a process that includes 'shadowing' the leader, a series of in-depth interviews, and a 360 degree evaluation. A confidential report is submitted with specific suggestions for measurable goals for the Chief Executive's performance. While it will always be the Board's responsibility to decide on compensation and contract terms, having a detailed, objective report from an experienced professional in the employ of the Board adds credibility and objectivity to the process.

The administration's senior management team can also benefit from this same objective review. Often the relationship between the Chief Executive and senior administrators is so close that objectivity suffers. Sometimes, roles evolve beyond the ability of a previously competent administrator. Occasionally, the Board has questions about the effectiveness of the senior administrative team. This report is designed to assist the chief executive and improve communication and decision-making.

Prior to the arrival of a new Chief Executive, the Board should always request a complete evaluation of the senior team. This report is a great benefit to the new leader and provides an unbiased appraisal of key personnel before the new Chief Executive takes office. This process redounds to the benefit of the new leader and the organization because important administrative personnel decisions and/or changes need not wait.

Policy and Practice Review
The most important function of the Board, after hiring and evaluating the Chief Executive, is making policy to guide the institution's critical operations. This is a fundamental fiduciary responsibility to which Boards are legally bound. But how does a Board know its policies are being enforced? How does it know, before a crisis, that some alteration to a policy is necessary?   How does the Board trust the administration of the organization, but verify that the information the governing body has is accurate without becoming overly involved in the organization's daily operations? A periodic policy review by a Trusted Advisor who is an experienced school leader and seasoned board member himself assists the Board appraise those results through a confidential report to the Board.

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"Since there is no other job that prepares you to be president, the best presidents are the ones with the ability to learn on the job and (who have) the willingness to change."

  -- Arianna Huffington