Listening to Aurora Jackson (“A.J.”) describe how she’d gone about building a solid partnership with her new board at the Lane Transit District (Eugene, Oregon) in our podcast recording session a couple of weeks ago, I was struck by what a great mentor she’d make for new transit CEOs. It’s nothing short of amazing when you consider she’s been at the helm of LTD for only 18 months. I recalled some CEOs from the recent past who’d gotten off on the wrong foot with their new boards and barely kept their jobs after a brutal couple of years. A.J. could certainly have saved them from lots of pain and suffering!
A.J.’s really informative podcast describes the strategies that she – in her first CEO position no less – has employed to arrive at the enviable position of being a close partner with the LTD Board. At the philosophical end of the leadership spectrum, A.J. arrived in Eugene with a clear-sighted view of the CEO as a full-fledged member, along with the Board, of LTD’s “strategic governing team,” and she understood that she had to make working with her Board a top CEO leadership priority. Walking the talk, A.J. spends an estimated 8 to 10 hours on the average weekly on governance matters – planning for, supporting, and interacting with her Board members. Also, she arrived keenly aware that she couldn’t ever take the partnership with the LTD Board for granted, no matter how solid it might appear. She understood that the board-CEO working relationship is always fragile and can erode quickly if not continuously and meticulously maintained.
As you might expect, A. J.’s partnership maintenance strategy includes regular, frequent communication with her Board and with individual Board members, but she knows enough not to over-rely on communication and interaction to keep her working relationship with the Board healthy. Recognizing that she and her new Board had to be in sync from the get-go on her chief executive leadership priorities, one of the first steps she took after taking the helm at LTD was to reach explicit agreement with her Board on her detailed chief executive leadership targets, making sure they reflected her Board’s priorities and expectations. And she and her Board members regularly hold mini-retreats to update her priorities based on evolving Board expectations. One thing for sure: A.J. is not about to get caught inadvertently moving one direction (e.g., spending more time on internal management) when her Board expects her to move in another (e.g., more aggressively pursuing external stakeholder relationships).
And as you’ll learn from A.J.’s podcast, she recognizes that her Board members make for better partners if they are actively engaged in meaningfully shaping important governing “products” like an updated vision statement, so she aggressively looks for opportunities to expand Board engagement in key governing processes like strategic and operational planning.
You’ll for sure want to share A.J.’s podcast with your board and executive team members and colleagues around the country, and I hope you’ll also share your partnership building experience by posting a comment at this blog.