Board meetings may be compared to an airline flight. Calling the meeting to order is the originating point. Vectors are included in the strategic plan. Mission and goals are the destination.

To reach the destination the board must maintain flight speed and altitude. When airspeed slows, distractions occur that cause diversions.

If an aircraft drops below a safe altitude, the cockpit computer warns: “Pull up, terrain ahead.” The flight analogy defines the appropriate air space for the board, committees, and staff.

Boards can benefit from the warning to pull up. Governance should reach an altitude in which leaders soar, maintaining elevation for the duration of the meeting.

“I use this analogy for board development, encouraging directors to be strategic and stay out of the weeds,” says David Murillo, CAE.

Within varying organizations there is a culture in which some boards are more strategic, and others are tactical, operating at lower levels. “If a conversation drops into tactics, for instance the color of flowers at the banquet, the board should be urged to ‘pull up.’”

The altimeter helps directors remember the dangers of dropping to lower levels. Once familiar, if they fall below governance levels, don’t be surprised to hear a director admonish, “Pull up, let’s get the conversation back to the board level.”


The board operates at the highest altitude. Its job is to be visionary, lead, and govern (not manage).

Reaching the destination is influenced by external factors, member needs, resources, and stakeholder expectations. Let’s call it the “thought terrain” in which the board must consider community well-being, disruptors, or major projects with return on investment.


Directors set the “what and why” (vision) and leave the “how” to committees and staff (implementation).

In both graphics, the board of directors is identified at the highest elevation. Directors should reach 50,000 feet.

Committees receive assignments from the board and authority from the bylaws. Committee work is below the board level; for example, 20,000 to 25,000 feet.

Management staff implement the initiatives of the board and committees by advancing a program of work. This is recognized as 10,000 feet.

Use the graphic and narrative to guide the board’s success. Understanding the governance altitudes will positively affect outcomes.

Whether you urge “pull up, terrain ahead” or state, “we’re in the weeds,” these analogies heighten board performance.

For Bob’s new 2021 Board Orientation Workbook, please click here.