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Board-CEO Relationship

Not Much Glamour – But What Looks Like a Sow’s Ear is Really a Silk Purse

November 9, 2018 0 Comments

“That doesn’t really sound very CEO-like” That was the initial reaction of a transit GM in our coaching session last year when I suggested that he put on what I called the “Chief Governing Process Designer Hat.” We were discussing an issue he’d identified in our session a couple of weeks earlier that he’d described as “terribly worrisome.” In a nutshell, although his relationship with the 15-member board seemed generally OK as far as he could tell – with no severe tension points or other obvious problems – he had a gut feel that most if not all of his … Read the rest

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CEO Doug Allen Keeps a Close Eye on His Preeminent Stakeholders at VRE

October 29, 2018 0 Comments

Doug Allen, Chief Executive Officer of Virginia Railway Express, doesn’t need to hear this true cautionary tale, as you’ll see from the podcast he recently recorded for this blog.

A few years ago I arrived at the administrative offices of a mid-size transit authority to meet with the CEO, who wanted to discuss my possibly helping to design and facilitate a daylong board-executive team retreat.  On the telephone the day before, he’d told me that the situation was “pretty urgent” since his relationship with the board was terribly frayed. It turned out that I’d made a wasted trip.  Ushered into Read the rest

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Aurora Jackson: A Consummate Chief Governing Relationship Manager

August 30, 2018 0 Comments

Not long ago I spent three hours with the governance committee (including the chief executive) of the board of a large senior services nonprofit, sitting as the board’s nominating committee. Faced with six vacant board seats to fill six months hence, committee members were taking the first critical step in the process: updating the profile of desirable board member attributes and qualifications that they’d be using in identifying and assessing candidates to fill the six openings. This is, as our readers no doubt know, one of the most important responsibilities of the self-appointing boards that predominate in the nonprofit sector. … Read the rest

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Beware of the Passive-Reactive Board

July 31, 2018 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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Get Your Board-CEO Retreat Right

July 5, 2018 0 Comments

Retreats have become a popular vehicle for involving transit board members, their CEOs, and executives in accomplishing high-impact governing work that could not be accomplished – at least not as well – in regular board business meetings.  Updating a vision statement and identifying and discussing strategic and operational issues certainly fall in this category.  The return on your authority’s investment of time, energy, and money in a retreat can be quite powerful, in terms not only of substantive outcomes such as an updated vision statement, but also process spin-offs such as esprit de corps, satisfaction, ownership of – and commitment … Read the rest

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Cementing the Partnership With Your Board

June 19, 2018 0 Comments

This post has been adapted from an article that originally appeared in the Spring 2018 edition of the Association Forum’s “CEOnly Newsletter.”  It is reprinted here with the Forum’s permission.

Satisfied Owners Make Better Partners

Thirty years of working with public and nonprofit boards of all shapes and sizes and their chief executives  have taught me that your long-term success and professional longevity as CEO of your transit authority have more to do with maintaining a healthy partnership with your board than any other factor.  I’ve also learned that even if your transit authority is thriving in terms of operational … Read the rest

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Turning Board Evaluation of the CEO Into a More Powerful Relationship Building Tool

May 11, 2018 0 Comments

“But won’t I be inviting my board members into my business and leaving myself open to the kind of micro-management that can really disrupt my work?” This is what I heard from the GM of a mid-size transportation authority during our recent discussion over lunch of the process her board might use to assess her work. We’d agreed that a well-designed annual GM evaluation process was one of the most important vehicles for keeping her working relationship with the board healthy. And we’d also agreed that an objective evaluation process should heavily focus on the authority’s overall performance in terms … Read the rest

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Don’t Forget Your Board Chair’s Paycheck

April 19, 2018 0 Comments

I’ll never forget walking into a transit authority’s board room several years ago. I found the board chair – a highly influential attorney – fuming. When I asked what was wrong, he handed me a clipping from the community affairs section of the local paper, saying “read this and you’ll see.” The piece was a glowing review of the authority’s new agreement with the local community college system – providing frequent, convenient bus service to students. I couldn’t see what the problem was until I got near the end of the piece, when I read a long quote from the … Read the rest

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Don’t Allow Yourself to Get Caught in the “Policy Governance” Trap

April 10, 2018 0 Comments

A year or so ago, I got a call from a transit CEO desperate for help.  The year before, he explained, his board had adopted a “policy governance manual,” spelling out the roles and responsibilities of the board and CEO and making clear the limits on both board and executive authority.  For example, the manual specified that the CEO could sign consulting services contracts up to a maximum of $25,000, above which board approval was required, that the CEO was responsible for preparing the annual operating plan and budget, while the board was responsible for reviewing and adopting the plan … Read the rest

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5 Facts of Life in the Rapidly Evolving “Field” of Public Transit Governance

January 26, 2018 0 Comments

Actually, governance – the leadership work of governing boards in close collaboration with their chief executive officers – isn’t yet a full-fledged field. It’s getting there, but still can’t claim the set of universally accepted core principles and thoroughly tested best practices that you expect a fully developed field to have.  Instead, principles and practices are heatedly debated, and oodles of really dangerous advice – what I think of as “insidious foes” – can damage board performance and erode the board-CEO working relationship.  I call these dangerous bits of advice “insidious” because they can sound quite plausible – and might … Read the rest

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