Hard Truths About Soft Skills in Transit

I am sitting in Washington DC with 27 of the best and brightest up and comers from all of the constituent parts that make up modern American transit. It is the annual Eno Center for Transportation’s Transit Senior Executive Program, or TSE for short. On the right, a General Manager leading a small property in central California. My left, the Transit Police Chief for a major city. Front row, a Maintenance Executive and next to him a Manager at the Federal Transit Administration. All have come to learn from some exceptionally gifted speakers and teachers. All are invited to share their own wisdom on the hard truth to the soft skills in running a transit property.

All have earned this opportunity by being nominated by their employer and applying for admission.

Phil Washington, LA Metro General Manager and an alumnus of Eno's Transit Senior Executive Program talks to the 2015 TSE Class about key leadership skills.

Phil Washington, LA Metro General Manager and an alumnus of Eno’s Transit Senior Executive Program talks to the 2015 TSE Class about key leadership skills.

If those selected had known beforehand what they were about to embark upon the ranks may have thinned a bit. Each attendee accepts a 360-degree feedback process and professional coaching along with it. For those who have not been through a “360,” it is a powerful and oftentimes unnerving process. To uncover what your boss, your peers, and your direct reports view your current leadership capabilities is in a word…illuminating. Sometimes the knowledge gained from this process may have been known to you…very often it was not. It is in these “blind spots” and the contemplation of them, which informs the implications on our growth as leaders. It is these blind spots, which often hold our development back. What we don’t know can hurt us.

All of the attendees are in various stages of leadership discovery when the course begins. One after another in rapid succession we hear from distinguished speakers. Speakers who have seen it, done it, lived it and are gifted at telling what they have learned. What are they trying to do now? What has worked? What didn’t?   We hear from men and woman who have spent their entire careers in this industry. True wisdom from a collective of hundreds of years of experience. How do you prepare a transit plan for the Pope’s visit? How do you work with a board? Natural disasters? Labor? Aging workforces? Millennials? At one point John Catoe, ex-GM of the Washington Metropolitan Transportation Authority and associated member of the Eno team spoke movingly on How a General Manager manages a company, the service, and oneself when there been a terrible accident—and some of your customers will never return home again. Each subject spoke to the rigors and responsibilities of leadership in transit. Each speaker developed a narrative that would allow these new leaders to experience the “real deal”.

Just as the information was piling up we would break into groups led by an expert facilitator. The purpose was to allow time to assimilate and discuss what was delivered in class. The groups are composed of professionals from a variety of properties, functional areas, and background. In these groups, participants get personal, individualized and to the point. Significant matters were discussed amongst a peer group that became closer and closer as the days progressed. My associates and I personally coached these groups. Tremendous value was created in these rooms that served each individual and furthered their professional education. This group became the individuals’ “kitchen cabinet” of advisors, as was recommended during the program by lecturer Robert Prince, Jr., former GM of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

Transit needs leaders. It is likely your organization does as well. Eno’s Transit Senior Executive Program delivers. Just ask our graduates.

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