When CEO-aspirants take the helm of a transit authority, among the stiffest challenges they face is building a solid partnership with their new board. There is wide agreement in the field of transit governance that the single most lethal threat to a newly minted CEO’s professional success and longevity in the C-Suite is a shaky working relationship with the board that can’t withstand the normal stresses and strains at the top. So our readers who are CEO-aspirants – along with CEOs who are interested in fine-tuning and strengthening the partnership with their board – will want to watch the video interview I recorded recently with four really board-savvy transit chief executives: Carm Basile (CDTA, Albany, NY); India Birdsong (GCRTA, Cleveland, OH); Andre Colaiace (ACCESS Services, Los Angeles County, CA); and Karen King (Golden Empire Transit, Bakersfield, CA). All four of these seasoned leaders have succeeded in fashioning close, productive, and enduring partnerships with their boards. Drawing on their experience, they turned our interview into a mini graduate course replete with practical, thoroughly tested strategies that senior transit managers who are CEO-aspirants can employ in building the kind of partnership with their new board they must have to survive and thrive when they take the helm of a transit authority.
Carm, India, Andre and Karen have learned that one of the most important keys to cementing the partnership with their boards has been getting up close and personal with individual board members. This means spending enough one-on-one time with the individuals making up the board to understand what motivated them to accept appointment to the board in the first place, the professional return they hope to realize from their investment of time and energy in governing, the governance issues they’re passionately interested in, the governing work that they find most – and least – satisfying, their communication preferences, etc. Some of our readers might resist this very personal dimension of relationship building, both because it can claim a large dollop of CEO time and it flies in the face of the traditional notion that the CEO should avoid close interaction with board members. My counsel? The time commitment will be well worth making, and the traditional notion never made sense.
All four of these board-savvy leaders have also learned that the transit CEO must take the lead in helping her board develop its governing capacity, wearing that I call the “Board Developer-in-Chief” hat. Experience has taught them that boards are not self-developing governing bodies, and they well know that the members of a board whose governing role, structure, and processes are well-developed will have a more productive and satisfying governing experience and, therefore, will make for stronger, more reliable partners.