TW Leadership Profile: David Cavazos, City Manager of Santa Ana, CA

Written by Basilio Ramirez. Posted in Leadership, Organizational Development

Is it possible to inherit the leadership traits needed to manage a city from your parents? David Cavazos believes so. “I learned confidence from my father,” says David, “and self-reliance from my mother.” And those two traits have brought him a long way. With almost three decades of public management experience, David’s journey has had pit stops at Carnegie Mellon University, starting as an intern for the city of Phoenix, Arizona, and then becoming its City Manager. After a few years leading there, he is now the City Manager for the city of Santa Ana, California since 2013. “I encourage a team approach to problem solving,” he says, “and believe that solutions are achieved by working together.” As I walked out of the meeting a younger man walked me to the elevator and asked if there was anything else they could do for me. Curious. Especially, because I had visited the same offices years before Mr. Cavazos was its City Manager and found a team in dire need of a leader.

Mr. Cavazos’ approach illustrates the common trait found amongst leaders, namely, they are preoccupied with how to move a group of people towards a united goal. While achievers single-mindedly focus on accomplishments and try to drive their teams to help them arrive at the destination, leaders try to find ways to maximize the strengths of the team and minimize its weaknesses. Leaders still have goals like Achievers, it is just that leaders like Mr. Cavazos are fascinated with how to get the whole team across the finish line.

This may seem like a very subtle shift in perspective but it makes all the difference in the world. The consultant team at TurningWest are experts at helping high Achievers learn the people and process skills to become great leaders. We shorten the learning curve by introducing the insights, techniques, and tools that our clients need to help them become great leaders. Then, while they are honing those skills in their unique leadership setting, we guide them through the inevitable detours and obstacles that arise. Achievers can take the “trial and error” approach to becoming leaders but will suffer much collateral damage due to their mistakes. Or, they can engage a professional navigator to accelerate their acquisition of leadership skills and thus propel their career forward.




Board Dysfunction

Written by Dr Steven Goodwin. Posted in Organizational Development

A couple of years ago, I had the great pleasure of attending John and Miriam Carver’s seminar on ‘Policy Governance.’ I figured it would not be too many more years before Dr. Carver retired and I wanted very much to hear him in person so I booked a ticket and registered for the course. He and Miriam did not disappoint. If you are not familiar with the Carver Policy Governance model for boards, you have missed the single most comprehensive, systematic approach for governing by a board of directors.

The seminar began brilliantly. For more than an hour, Dr. Carver ran through an extensive list of dysfunctions and challenges faced by boards. As he progressed through his list, every participant was saying to themselves, Yup, seen that one. Ooh, I hate that one. Oh yeah, that one is a serious problem. I wanted to call out, Preach on, Brother John. There was not one dysfunction on his lengthy list that was not pandemic to boards in general. Below is a partial refrain from his list:

Common Board Problems * Disproportionate amount of attention paid to small items vs large issues; * Board takes up discussion of anything that anyone brings up; * Board debates something that has already been decided; * Board Approvals – this is not their job! Boards are supposed to generate things; * Boards that allow one member’s strongly held opinion become the Board’s opinion because the rest of the members will not speak up; * Founding Board member stays on or becomes ED/CEO and Board allows the Founding member to intimidate other members and take over the Board’s thinking; * Setting Board responsibilities to overlap staff functions – shadow functioning; * Board not taking control as though control were not its function; * Allowing one or two members to hold the Board hostage; * Deadly boring Board meetings; * Board cannot get its job done due to poor Chair; * Board cannot get its job done due to poor ED/CEO; * Board members finishing their term feeling they wasted their time.

It was not hard to see why Dr. Carver opened the two day event with this list of complaints. His premise was that if such dysfunctions are so prevalent, then the fault must lie in the very design of the governance structure. It was this revelation that drove him to create what he came to call “Policy Governance.” The Policy Governance system was designed from the ground up to avoid all these vexations. More importantly however, Policy Governance was built to propel the organization to efficiently achieve the purpose(s) for which the organization was formed in the first place.

In today’s nonprofit world, the term ‘board development’ is everywhere. 90% of the time what is meant by this generic expression is fixing the above listed board dysfunctions. This is like applying a bandaid hoping to cure cancer. Most of what passes for “board development” is more evidence that John and Miriam Carver are on the right track. Policy Governance, when done correctly, avoids almost every board problem you have ever seen and been frustrated by. It allows boards to be about their own work of ensuring the organization accomplishes its “ends.”

If you are not familiar with the Carver Model, I encourage you to read John Carver’s book, Boards That Make a Difference. What John lacks as an author, he more than makes up for as a comprehensive theorist on board governance. At the very least, his method will make you rethink your current board structure.