Nose In, Fingers Out

Nov 16, 2009 | Blog

Seminario Nazareno de las Americas (SENDAS), Costa Rica

“For whom is the Board of Trustees ‘the trustee’?” This question was posed to me by a faculty member of a Nazarene university in the United States. She was serious.

“What do board members do?” was another question aimed at me during the summer with more than a hint of derision. The response of the person to his own question suggested passivity, uncertainty and frustration on the part of many of his colleagues serving on school boards.

During twenty years of working with and reporting to governing boards, I have worked with strong and effective boards, and I have experienced passivity, uncertainty and frustration on the not so effective boards.

During the past few months, I have led board development workshops at the invitations of three strong school leaders: Africa Nazarene University, Vice Chancellor, Dr. Leah Marangu; Nazarene Bible College, Colorado Springs, President Dr. Harold Graves, Jr.; and Rector of the Seminario Nazareno de las Americas (SENDAS), Costa Rica, Dr. Ruben Fernandez.

Regional Education Coordinators (left to right)
Caribbean – Andres Hernandez
Mexico & Central America – Ruben Fernandez
South America – Jorge Julca

These leaders wanted to strengthen their already strong boards and to orient new board members toward effective and appropriate movement on the boards to which they had recently been elected. In each of the workshop sessions the board members were energized and engaged.

Before we process eight “best practices” of governing boards of institutions like African Nazarene University, Nazarene Bible College, and Seminario Nazareno de las Americas, I shared with the groups two biases regarding boards and board members:

1. Effective boards make outstanding presidents. (The flipside of this statement is: “Outstanding presidents embrace strong boards.”)
2. “Nose in, fingers out.” (Board members are to ask the tough questions, but do not meddle in the administration of the school.)

I shared with each board the following eight “best practices.” Click here to view the entire PowerPoint presentation. (Click here to view the Spanish version.)

#1 Board members understand the role, purpose and function of the board, including committee structure.

Principle: Focus on policy formulation (board responsibility) not policy and implementation (administration responsibility).

#2 Board members know and communicate the school’s mission, vision, and values.

Principle: Establish policies and make decisions with a laser beam commitment to the school’s mission, vision and values.

#3 Board members ask the right questions to secure critical answers to strategic questions such as: Who are we? Where are we? Where are we going? How will we get there? Why is it important to get there? How will we know when we get there?

Principle: Focus on value defining, forward looking and facilitating questions, and probe for legal, planning and restorative clarity and consistency.

#4 Board members understand and embrace the Board Policy Manual that contains the board approved policies for effective and efficient governance of the college, university or seminary.

Principle: Board policies and procedures are maintained in an up to date manual that is provided to every board member.

#5 Board members relate to the school leader – president, vice chancellor, principal, or rector – and the constituency with one voice.

Principle: Vigorously discuss policy options and make decisions within the board meetings and communicate board action outside the board meetings with a unified voice and support.

#6 Board members listen to the constituency, appreciate the heritage of the school and model faith development and spiritual formation.

Principle: Serve as an active, not passive, extension of the school leader between board meetings.

#7 Board members are outstanding examples of giving regularly and sacrificially to the school.

Principle: Financial donors look for the board members for evidence of their consistent giving to the school – individually and collectively.

#8 Board members develop new leaders throughout the denomination for increased responsibilities and commitment to the school.

Principle: Reproduce yourself as a passionate advocate for the school.

One final question. In your own context what does the governance phrase, “Nose in, fingers out” mean to you and the governing board with whom you work?

I welcome your comments on the template used in the board development workshops. It’s a work in progress!


Board of Directors, Seminario Nazareno de las Americas (SENDAS), Costa Rica

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