BoardSource Leadership Forum

Promote Seniority?

Continental Airlines will be the first US carrier to receive delivery of the new Boeing 787 aircraft.  The plane is regarded as the best choice for airlines looking to fly long-distance routes and reap the benefits of an energy efficient design.  It is the newest toy for a commercial pilot and everyone wants a chance to fly it.  How does the airline handle the interest from its pilots?  Continental gives priority to the most senior pilots.  Those who have the most time with the company get first option to participate in an extensive training program and then be available to fly the planes as they are introduced into Continental’s fleet.  Sounds like a respectable system.  A Wall Street Journal article mentions one potential downside to the approach.  The most senior pilots are likely to retire in the immediate future.  It raises an intriguing question.  Should an enterprise invest the most in those who are about to reach the end of their service?  In the commercial airline industry, this date-certain is age 65.  The article mentions that Continental has budgeted for the quick rotation expected from their first group of senior pilots.  From the perspective of building an engaging and supportive workplace the philosophy of rewarding those who have given the most seems equitable and completely fair.  From a budgetary and resource allocation standpoint, would it not seem more appropriate to invest training in less senior pilot and therefore ensure a tenure of service and learning that should result in limited turnover?


The idea of training, promotion, and retirement makes me consider the trends in the social sector.  How often are the highest positions in leadership held by those who are most senior in the cause?  How many Board Chairs will retire from the board after their term as President expires?  Do organizations consider the make-up of the leadership or is seniority given the most weight when selecting leaders?  What investments could you make in a new board member who shows promise of leadership that you may not be able to make in the individual who is about to depart?  If the phrase, “it is his/her turn next” enters your leadership nomination process then perhaps it is time to discuss alternative models.  Seniority is an important attribute but it should not be equated directly with leadership.

Headlines from BoardSource Leadership Forum

I arrived home from the BoardSource Leadership Forum last night, by the far the best nonprofit conference I attend each year.  Many new ideas, trends and conversations which I will share in the coming weeks.  Beth Kanter, the social media guru shared a great presentation that reminded all of us that a social media policy is now a leading practice.  Maya Enista from Mobilize.org was a compelling spokesperson for the Millennials.  She reminded us to give full status to our younger board members, “I would not want to be somebody’s boyfriend a quarter of the time so why would I want to serve as a junior board member with limited rights?”  R Todd Johnson from Jones Day is on the leading edge of the movement which is designing new entities.  L3C Corporations, B Corps, Benefit Corporations and a Flexible Benefit Corporation model being implemented in California are all beginning to take form in the space between the social and corporate sectors.  Lastly, BoardSource just released its Governance Index. Highlights of the index show that the average size of a board is 16, 70% of the organization’s surveyed have term limits, and the average tenure of a board member is 7.2 years.  Of course, BoardSource would immediately say, “if you have seen one board, you have seen one board.”