Chait’s Board Skills

The following skills help boards develop their thinking toward policy and strategy rather than focus solely on operations and management:

Cognitive skills

  • Context: the board understands and takes into account the culture and norms of the organization it governs
    • Adapts to the distinctive characteristics and culture of the institution’s environment
    • Relies on the institution’s mission, values and tradition as a guide for decisions
    • Acts so as to exemplify and reinforce the organization’s values
  • Education: the board takes the necessary steps to ensure that trustees are knowledgeable about the institution, the profession, and the board’s roles, responsibilities and performance
    • Consciously creates opportunities for trustee education and development
    • Regularly seeks information and feedback on its own performance
    • Pauses periodically for self-reflection, to diagnose its strengths and limitations, and to examine its mistakes
  • Analytical: the board recognizes the complexities and subtleties of issues and accepts ambiguity and uncertainty as healthy preconditions for critical discussions
    • Approaches matters from a broad institutional outlook
    • Dissects and examines all aspects of multifaceted issues
    • Raises doubts, explores tradeoffs, and encourages the expression of differences of opinion
  • Strategic: the board helps the institution envision a direction and shape a strategy
    • Cultivates and concentrates on processes that sharpen institutional priorities
    • Organizes itself and conducts its business in light of the institution’s strategic priorities
    • Anticipates potential problems and acts before matters become urgent or issues become crises.

Affective or relational skills

  • Interpersonal: the board nurtures the development of trustees as a working group, attends to the board’s collective welfare, and fosters a sense of cohesiveness
    • Creates a sense of inclusiveness among trustees
    • Develops group goals and recognizes group achievements
    • Identifies and cultivates leadership on the board
  • Political: the board accepts as a primary responsibility the need to develop and sustain healthy relationships among major constituencies
    • Respects the integrity of the governance process and the legitimate roles and responsibilities of other stakeholders
    • Consults often and communicates directly with key constituencies
    • Attempts to minimize conflict and win/lose situations
adapted from Richard Chait, Thomas Holland, Barbara Taylor,
Improving the Performance of Governing Boards,
American Council on Education, Oryx Press, 1996