January 2020

Member query:

What is your opinion about formally naming or voting in a Chair Elect 1 year before transition? Are there disadvantages to this? How much should the Chair-Elect shadow the Chair in all meetings?


Reply from Cathy Trower:

My opinion is that this is a good practice. The primary disadvantage is if the Chair-Elect is either unable to serve or is no longer the best person for the position after that one-year period. With only a one-year period, however, that probably would not be the case. Where institutions have more difficulty is naming a Chair-Elect for a Chair who is beginning a three-year tenure as Chair, which sometimes happens when schools name a Vice Chair as the presumptive Chair (or Chair Elect). In the case of a one-year transition period, the Chair-Elect should shadow the Chair in all meetings because this is one of the best reasons to name a Chair-Elect—that person can be mentored by watching and then asking questions of the Chair about what transpires during meetings. Occasionally, there will be times when the Head and Chair want a private meeting to discuss a confidential or personal matter, so the Chair-Elect would not be present.

Importantly, if your school decides to have a Chair-Elect position, it is essential that that person meet all of the requirements to be an effective Chair when the time comes. This means being transparent about: (1) the Chair job description; (2) the skillset needed to be Chair; (3) the time commitment required; and (4) desirable qualities, attributes, and characteristics. In my experience, many schools have codified the Chair job description but far too few have done so for the skills and qualities needed. Further, those skills and qualities should be revisited periodically to keep them current and aligned well with the school’s Head, mission, and strategy.