“Terrain Ahead, Pull Up, Pull Up!”

By Bob Harris, CAE and David Murillo, CAE

Board meetings can be comparable to a flight path. Calling the meeting to order is the originating point. The destination is results that advance the mission. A flight analogy  requires that the board, committees, and staff understand their “air space.” 

When an aircraft drops below a safe altitude, a cockpit computer warns: “pull up, pull up.” If the computer senses terrain ahead, the warning may be, “Terrain, Pull Up.”

Boards can benefit from a similar warning and understanding of the flight.

Governance and board work should reach an altitude to help leaders soar and maintain that 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 every organization there is a culture in which some boards are more strategic, and others are tactical, operating at a lower level. “If a conversation drops into tactics, for instance the color of flowers at the banquet, the board should be urged to ‘pull up.’ ” 

The visual board altimeter helps directors remember the message and dangers to dropping to lower levels. If they fall below governance levels, “don’t be surprised to hear a director at the meeting suggest we pull-up.” Meaning let’s get the conversation back to the board level. 

CALSAE Article by David Murillo Graphic about Associations boards


The board should operate at the highest possible altitude.   Its job is to be visionary, lead, and think beyond their terms of office.  

Influences on the board include environmental factors, member needs, resources, and stakeholder expectations.  Let’s call it the “thought terrain” in which the board should consider community well-being, industry disruptors, or major projects with return on investment.   Through vision, directors set the “what and why,” and leave the “how” to committees and staff.  

In both graphics the board of directors is identified at the highest elevation. Let’s say they should soar to 50,000 feet. Committees receive their authority from the board and 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. Staff advance the program of work.  This is referenced as 10,000 feet.

Use a graphic or narrative to encourage the board to soar. Understanding the altitudes of governance will positively affect outcomes.  


Whether you urge “Pull up, terrain ahead” or advise, “I think we’re in the weeds,” these are memorable ways to heighten board performance.   

CALSAE Article by David Murillo Graphic about governance

Note: Bob Harris, CAE, provides free governance tips and templates at www.nonprofitcenter.com. David Murillo, CAE, is President of The Core Management Company in California.  

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