I recently recorded a podcast featuring Al French, Spokane County Commissioner and Chair of the Board of the Spokane Transit Authority (STA) and Susan Meyer, CEO of STA. They describe, from their different perspectives, how they worked as a really cohesive leadership team in getting a truly high-stakes, out of the box change initiative accomplished at STA. What happened under their leadership was the transformation of the STA Board of Directors into a higher impact governing body, primarily by putting an updated Board standing committee structure in place.
I was fortunate to work closely with Al and Sue in strengthening STA governance, so I was able to see the “Al and Susan Show” in action close up. Four factors appear to account for their functioning as such a productive Board Chair-CEO Leadership Team:
- Both Al and Sue are united by their passionate commitment to the STA vision and mission, and they don’t let narrower, more parochial agendas get in the way of serving STA’s customers and stakeholders.
- Al and Sue not only have tremendous respect for each other, they also very consciously help each other succeed in carrying out their related, but different, leadership roles as Board Chair and CEO. Over the course of the several months I worked closely with them, I never saw Al and Sue compete with each other. I don’t mean to say they never disagreed; of course they did. But compete with each other? Never!
- They clearly understood and observed in practice the basic division of labor governing their roles: that the Board Chair leads the Board’s deliberations, the CEO is responsible for all international operations, and they share the external relations role.
- And they never kept their distance, communicating openly and frequently and taking the time to work through complex issues.
Over my quarter-century of working with nonprofit and public organizations, I’ve identified the board-CEO partnership as one of the preeminent keys to organizational effectiveness and success over the long run, so STA is, indeed, fortunate to have the “Al and Susan Show” playing in Spokane.