How are you working WITH your co-pilot?

By Kevin Huinink  |  November 8th

“I wish our Board Chair only knew …”  “I wish our school principal/COO/ED would just …” Do either of these phrases sound familiar? Even as an internal voice?

Whether you are a Board Chair or a Head of School, there is a presumed onus on you for your school to shine and succeed; to be effective in fulfilling its mission. Are you partners standing together in this, or does it feel more like a tug-of-war? A solo act? Or perhaps even as a good friend of mine refers: like a pilot with an unruly passenger? Joan Garry, a non-profit leadership consultant, asserts that a good Board Chair-Leader relationship is THE most important indicator of a healthy non-profit.[1] She shares the analogy that “The Board Chair and CEO need to act like co-pilots in the cockpit of a twin-engine jet, working in tandem to steer the plane safely.”

In the schools that I lead, we follow the guiding principles outlined in the “social discipline” or relationship window to help us to have productive and supportive relationships with our colleagues and with our students. Based in Restorative Practice principles, the window[2] has four quadrants, labelled for their high or low support and expectations. With high expectations (we believe that others are capable) and high support (we believe that others are lovable), we are able to work WITH our students, colleagues, or any other person we are in relationship with. Lowered expectations or lowered support result in reducing others to objects whom we do things TO or FOR, or in cases of neglect, we ignore altogether.


What does this have to do with the Board Chair (or full Board) and Leader (or Leadership team) relationship? Everything! For a healthy Board Chair-Leader relationship to exist, there needs to be both high expectations and high support. It is in this environment of working WITH each other where co-pilots can count on one another to do their jobs in their respective roles, and they can count on one another for support to do the same. If we take away the support, or we take away the expectations, the relationship becomes one-sided and our partner can become an object of our attention, not a subject to be honoured. I often thank my Board for the beauty of equal parts support and accountability as I do my work leading Cairn Christian Schools.

Joan Garry identifies five key elements to a successful relationship between the Leader and Board Chair, which I believe are grounded in the ‘WITH’ quadrant of the relationship window:

  1. The Board Chair and Leader are both crazy about the organization. Expectations of loyalty need to exist and be shared. It makes all the difference when you know that you are pulling in the same direction.
  2. The Board Chair actually wants and understands the job of chair. If a school leader can’t expect that their Board Chair wants their job (or vice versa), they may as well be flying solo.
  3. The Board Chair and Leader plan the Executive Committee calls together. Knowing that you are on the same page is important. If a Board Chair and Leader disagree, then the groundwork for mutuality needs to happen at the executive level.
  4. The Board Chair and Leader plan Board Meetings together. The Board Chair has a unique view into what Board members do and do not know. The Leader understands the details and inner workings of the school. Together, they need to plan which decisions are important to make right now.
  5. The Board Chair and Leader meet frequently (weekly, even). While this may seem onerous, it doesn’t need to be. Even brief connections can foster a relationship of trust where support isn’t just assumed but is lived out.

Paying attention to and holding both the principles of high expectations and high support along with these five simple elements are enough to get your Board Chair or School Leader by your side, working WITH you. If either of you are operating in the TO, FOR, or NOT quadrant, your school will likely suffer as a result. Neither of you got into your current role for that to happen. For the benefit of your school and of Chrisitan Education, make sure you are working WITH your co-pilot.


Kevin Huinink is Executive Director at Cairn Christian Schools, with campuses in Smithville and Stoney Creek, and is the Lower Grand Cohort Leader for Edvance.


[1] Garry, J., 2021. What's the Single Best Sign of a Healthy Nonprofit?. [online] Joan Garry Nonprofit Leadership. Available at: <> [Accessed 4 November 2021].

[2] Vaandering, D., 2021. A WINDOW ON RELATIONSHIPS: ENLARGING THE SOCIAL DISCIPLINE WINDOW FOR A BROADER PERSPECTIVE. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 4 November 2021].