New CEOs have a long checklist of to-dos and challenges right out of the gate. Added to that, they need to establish a relationship with their boards to be effective. As with any relationship, building trust means doing what you say you’re going to do and making sure you’re really listening.
When Bennie F. Johnson began as CEO of AIGA in January 2020, the professional association for design, the organization was at an inflection point. AIGA’s hands-on board had been involved in the day-to-day operations of the group for a long time prior to Johnson’s arrival, so he knew he had to gain their trust to give himself more latitude to lead.
Johnson spent his first 90 days assessing what he observed and establishing a rapport with the board. At about that point in his tenure, the pandemic hit, and AIGA operations switched to virtual, but Johnson maintained the existing cadence of holding board meetings every four weeks. He admits it was intense, but it was helpful for both the board and Johnson to establish checkpoints about what staff was working on and where the group was headed.
“They brought me in to change, but nobody tells you how we’re going to change,” Johnson said.