BoardWise: Governance team members write in
BoardWise is a forum for board members and superintendents across the state to share questions about governance and board-superintendent relations. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have been told that the board should not micromanage the superintendent or staff. How does the board know when we are doing that?
New board member
Dear New Board Member:
Simply put, micromanagement means that the board is trying to do someone else’s job. Put another way: If what the board is doing is included in the job description of a district employee, then it is not the board’s job to do that.
So, what is the board’s job? The board’s work has been described by CSBA as covering five overarching kinds of activity (see CSBA Sample Policy 9000):
- The board sets direction by clarifying the district mission and goals for change.
- The board provides structure for the organization’s operation, including establishing policies, a budget and a collective bargaining contract.
- The board demonstrates support by being knowledgeable about district programs and encouraging staff.
- The board holds the district accountable by monitoring progress toward goals.
- The board engages the community to learn about its interests, keeps it informed of district needs, and encourages the involvement and support of the community in district efforts.
Micromanagement happens when the board’s direction becomes overly prescriptive; administrators might say restrictive. Boards need to clarify their expectations for outcomes: What must be achieved? Exactly how those outcomes will be achieved is a question of strategy and requires professional judgment. Boards can stay focused on their governance role by using a few guiding principles— that the board’s questions and discussions of issues at hand:
- Are related to mission, vision and values
- Are at the district level
- Consider the impact on all aspects of the system
- Are related to issues of goals, policy, budget and accountability
- Provide clear expectations for staff
- Provide room for the professional judgment of the staff
The best way for the board to know if it is micromanaging may be the easiest method: Ask the superintendent. If relationships are healthy, based on mutual trust and respect, the board should be able to ask, “Are we too far down in the weeds?” The superintendent should be able to answer honestly without damaging the superintendent-board relationship. In fact, if the relationship needs some improvement, this question could be a good start to increasing trust and respect. By asking the question, the board demonstrates its interest in performing its governing role well, and asking about the superintendent’s perception is an extension of trust.
In fact, micromanagement may be a symptom of the relationship. When the board-superintendent relationship suffers, boards begin to lean into the administrative role. By asking about perceptions of micromanagement, the board opens the door to healthy dialogue.
Finally, it is important to remember that there is no one right answer to the question. It’s contextual; different superintendents have different levels of comfort with board interest in administrative issues, and different board members have different levels of need for information. Effective boards can raise the question of micromanagement, have the discussion and, even if there is not a full agreement, find common ground to move forward in a manner that strengthens the board-superintendent relationship.
Best of luck to you.