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Welcome to the Frontier!

July 21, 2020 0 Comments

Dave Stackrow and I opened the APTA video webinar we recently presented under the auspices of the APTA Board Members Committee by observing that public transit governance is frontier territory.  Far from being a mature, fully developed field, transit governance is characterized by the absence of universally accepted principles and best practices, which are the subject of often-vociferous debate around the country.  In fact, when conducting research for our new book on transit governance, Building a Solid Board-CEO Partnership (Governance Edge, 2019), Dave and I weren’t surprised to learn – actually, confirm – that there’s not even widespread agreement on … Read the rest

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On the Eve of Independence Day

July 3, 2020 0 Comments

The following essay is excerpted from a post that originally appeared in this blog some four years ago.  On the eve of our 2020 Independence Day celebration, I think it is appropriate to reflect on the meaning of this national holiday. Of course, the Fourth of July is intended to celebrate the declaration of a new, independent nation in 1776.  But it is also intended to celebrate the millions of immigrants from myriad countries who have enriched and strengthened American society in so many wonderful ways over the last 250-some years.  The great majority of we Americans are descended from Read the rest

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Beware of the Passive-Reactive Board

June 8, 2020 0 Comments

Over the years, a basically passive-reactive approach to governing – a model of sorts – has been passed down and has predominated – and probably still predominates – in both the for-profit and public/nonprofit sectors.   This approach – or model – sees the governing board as basically a responsive body, rather than as a generator or initiator of actions or products.  You can picture the passive-reactive board sitting at the pinnacle of the organization, waiting for staff-initiated things – policy recommendations, documents such as plans and budgets that call for adoption, briefings that require no action, etc. – to arrive, … Read the rest

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Foothill Transit’s Doran Barnes:  Energizer-in-Chief Extraordinaire

May 4, 2020 0 Comments

Our readers will recall that the March 31 post at this blog, “Crises Demand Energizers-in-Chief at All Levels” (https://boardsavvytransitceo.com/crises-demand-energizers-in-chief-at-all-levels/), describes chief executives who wear the Energizer-in-Chief hat in tackling the twin challenges of education and inspiration during crises such as Covid 19.  “On the one hand,” the March 31 post explains, “people naturally hunger for explanation and explication.  They crave understanding: of the forces at work in the crisis, and of the extent of the danger they are in.  On the other, they crave hope – that resolute, capable leadership will bring the ordeal to an end.”

You’ll … Read the rest

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The Board-Savvy CEO: De Facto Captain of the Strategic Governing Team

April 14, 2020 0 Comments

Governing is a team sport if there ever was one.  I’ve never in my 30-plus years of working with public and nonprofit organizations come across a public transit board that has successfully – on its own – transformed itself into a really high-impact governing body, much less managed to carry out its governing responsibilities in a full and timely fashion, without strong executive assistance.  High-impact governing is always, in my experience, the product of the board, its CEO, and the senior executives working closely together as a cohesive “Strategic Governing Team.”  Of course, we expect the CEO to provide our … Read the rest

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Energizer-in-Chief Redux:  Stakeholder Relationship Management

April 8, 2020 0 Comments

“Incredible.  We must be talking about 40 or more stakeholders.”  This was one of the responses to the question I asked in the daylong governance work session I was facilitating, after the  breakout group dealing with stakeholder relations had completed its report in plenary session.  The group had made a list of critical stakeholders  – defined as external organizations with which it made sense for the transit authority to maintain a relationship because something important was at stake – and then identified strengths and weaknesses in each of what appeared to be the ten highest-stakes relationships.  The question I had … Read the rest

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Crises Demand Energizers-in-Chief at All Levels

March 31, 2020 0 Comments

“The fog of despair hung over the land.  One out of every four American workers lacked a job.  Factories that had once darkened the skies with smoke stood ghostly and silent, like extinct volcanoes.  In October the New York City Health Department had reported that over one-fifth of the pupils in public schools were suffering from malnutrition. . . .Hunger marchers, pinched and bitter, were parading cold streets in New York and Chicago. . . .”  This is Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.’s description of America in 1933, in his magisterial The Crisis of the Old Order:  a nation in … Read the rest

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Don’t Count on Even Superb Performance Always Cutting it!

March 20, 2020 0 Comments

When I walked in Rich’s office for our weekly project review meeting, I found him slumped at his desk looking distraught.  When I asked him what’d happened, he just said “take a look,” handing me a form.  It was the annual performance evaluation his board had performed a couple of days ago.  Scanning the document, I couldn’t fathom his distress since his scores were uniformly high – in fact, superb.  That is, until I reached the bottom and saw the conclusion, which said in so many words, “You do a great job, but we find working with you impossible.”  He Read the rest

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CEO Evaluation: a Potentially Powerful Relationship Adhesive

March 9, 2020 0 Comments

At a daylong “High-Impact Governing Work Session” last fall, the board, executive director/CEO and executive team of Access Services in Los Angeles County spent around 1 ½ hours  discussing practical ways to cement the executive director’s working relationship with his board.  One of the relationship building tools the group closely examined was board evaluation of the executive director’s performance.  But they didn’t mean one of those highly subjective and essentially meaningless questionnaires that board members often individually fill out in the privacy of their own offices.

These questionnaires miss the point by having board members assess their CEO’s functional excellence … Read the rest

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The Engine Powering Your Transit Authority’s Governing Machine

January 21, 2020 0 Comments

Over the years I’ve often heard transit boards described as “policy-making bodies,” which doesn’t begin to convey the complexity of governing work.  It makes more sense to think about your authority’s board as a kind of governing machine that continuously produces governing decisions about such governing “products” as your authority’s updated values and vision statements, the new strategic plan, and next year’s operating plan and budget.  Your governing machine also produces a steady stream of governing judgments answering the classic governing question, “How are we doing? – on the basis of such information as your authority’s monthly or quarterly operational … Read the rest

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