The Big Five Best Practices of Effective Transit Leaders

Organizations seldom get better unless their leaders get better. Yet every transit leader we interview laments that so many complex demands confront them, they struggle to find the time to develop their leaders.

Leadership consultant and author Dave Jensen has studied best practices among transit executives for the last four years. He pointed out in my last column there are many skills transit leaders could improve, but five make the biggest difference. His research uncovered the five best practices of highly effective transit executives are:

  • Adapt strategies to meet goals
  • Cultivate innovative growth
  • Embrace ambiguity and paradox
  • Monitor closely
  • Engage others

Jensen discovered the first three of these competencies predict transit leadership effectiveness, but are also among the lowest-scoring. As one transit CEO exclaimed, “You mean these three predict success, but transit executives perform them poorly?”


Jensen says a few focused actions targeting these will deliver the biggest bang for your workforce development efforts at the top.


Adapt Strategies to Meet Goals

The first priority of an effective transit leader is to define andcommunicate strategy because aneffective strategic plan interprets the environment in a way that directs the employees’ energy onorganizational priorities. Unfortunately, most strategic plans gather dust on a shelf. A strategic plan not guiding today’s actions can’t help reach tomorrow’s destination. Jensen says the most important steps leaders can take to boost this competency are to create, then communicate a strategic plan.


Cultivate Innovative Growth

Innovation is the process of creating value by bringing ideas to fruition. Effective transit executives cultivate a “mind to market mindset” throughout their organization. They encourage everyone to contribute ideas to improve service, as well as the policies, process and procedures. Successful executives don’t reinforce the status quo, they challenge it.


Embrace Ambiguity and Paradox

Transit leaders tend to focus on one issue at the expense of the other. Yet managing the tension between issues is key to accomplishing both. To give proper attention to both sides Jensen recommends you “invite the loyal opposition to the table.” As you make decisions about one issue in a paradox, ask those who favor the other issue to the discussion. Embrace diverse points of view, conflicting opinions, and contradictory ideas. A closed mind is a wonderful thing to lose.

There’s never enough time to do everything, only the most important things. Jensen’s best practice research predicts that your organization will improve as your transit leaders develop these competencies. Learn more about each of them, as well as the other competencies needed to be an effective leader, in his compelling new book, “The Executive’s Paradox — How to Stretch When You’re Pulled by Opposing Demands.”