The Roles of a Governing Board

The Phi Mu National Council has taken up the challenging work of Policy Governance with energy, inspiration, vision and a clear intention to serve the membership faithfully. They know what their job is; other boards frequently struggle simply because they don’t. But such lack of clarity shouldn’t be a surprise. While there are thousands of institutions that teach management and operational skills, virtually none address the job of board governance. That is particularly ironic since the board sits at its organization’s apex and is accountable for its success. How puzzling that, as governance expert John Carver said, “Where the opportunity for organizational leadership is greatest, job design for leadership is poorest.”

The Policy Governance model was developed by Carver precisely to address this incoherence. Reduced to its essence, “The board’s job, on behalf of the organization’s members, is to ensure that the organization achieves what it should achieve while avoiding those behaviors and situations that should be avoided.” Embedded in this simple statement are three key governance roles of your National Council.

First, in order to serve faithfully on behalf of the Phi Mu membership, National Council must understand its members’ needs and perspectives. That requires periodic consultation. In Policy Governance these consultations are referred to as “ownership linkage.” Along with education about trends in a changing world, ownership linkage gives National Council a firm foundation for guiding the Fraternity.

Second, guidance means something very specific in Policy Governance. It involves identifying two types of criteria: the results that should be achieved by the organization and those behaviors or situations that should be avoided because they violate standards of ethics, prudence or law. In Policy Governance these are specifically identified in written policy that is delegated to the Executive Director. National Council spends considerable time making sure these instructions are complete, current, future-forward and rooted in the interests of members.

Third, to be in a position to provide its members assurance that the Fraternity is complying with policy, National Council regularly monitors organizational performance.

These three are the core contributions of a governing body: linkage with “owners,” guiding through policy and monitoring performance. Policy Governance integrates these into a coherent whole. It is not a simple system to learn; in fact, it is a paradigm shift for most boards. But when implemented as a whole, these principles consistently lead to governance excellence and organizational achievement.

As was said, many boards do not understand these critical roles. But your National Council does. It’s been a distinct pleasure to work with these inspired women as they’ve risen to the challenge of Policy Governance.


Joe Inskeep

The Governance Coach