“How many of you have had a really comprehensive, in-depth course in working with a governing board – in graduate school or some other venue?” This is a question I always ask when I’m presenting a program on building strong board-CEO partnerships. When I asked it at the workshop I was conducting a couple of years ago for CEO-aspirants at APTA’s Transit CEOs Seminar in New Orleans, no more than two or three hands went up. I wish I could say this was the exception to the rule, but, alas, the response was typical.
As I think back over dozens of governance workshops I’ve presented over the years in diverse fields – public transportation, association management, aging, economic development, K-12 education – you name it – I can’t recall one where more than a handful of participants testified that they’d been thoroughly educated on the ins and outs of successfully working with a governing board. This is not only sad, but terribly ironic, when you think of the power boards wield in nonprofit and public organizations: hiring – and firing – the CEO; reaching agreement with the CEO on her performance targets and evaluating CEO performance; allocating – or not – dollars to CEO initiatives; providing political backing – or not – to the CEO; to name some of the more obvious levers board members can pull. I’m not sure why governance generally – and the board-CEO partnership in particular – have received so little attention in the education of CEO-aspirants, but the oversight certainly puts CEOs at risk, especially newbies on the job.
I have to tell you that over my quarter-century of work with public transportation boards and CEOs, for every board-CEO working relationship I’ve seen rupture over a serious system performance shortfall, I’ve seen 10 relationships bite the dust because the CEO hasn’t been able to manage the human dimension of his relationship with the board. It’s really critical that we help CEO-aspirants become truly “board-savvy” before they take the reins of a transportation authority, which is why the podcast that Steve Bland of the Nashville MTA and Carm Basile of Albany’s CDTA recorded for this blog on preparing CEO-aspirants to build solid relationships with their transportation boards is so important. Indeed, the preeminent reason we created www.boardsavvytransitceo.com was to help remedy this dangerous gap in executive education.
Make a point of listening to Steve and Carm’s podcast when it’s posted at this blog next week and share it with every CEO-aspirant you know. And, by all means, share your own experience in helping CEO-aspirants become “board-savvy” enough to thrive – and survive! – in working with their boards.