Inside Leadership: Abbey Johnston & Greg Mutch focus on inner game for next-level results

Inside Leadership: Abbey Johnston & Greg Mutch focus on inner game for next-level results

Story By JEREMY GONSIOR/Photos by JOEL RODEHEAVER at Union Ave Creative.

It was cold, cloudy, and rainy outside, but inside the restaurant it was warm, vibrant and full of laughter because Abbey Johnston and Greg Mutch were there.

The leadership experts, both based in West Michigan, are executing an ambitious project: Inside Leadership, a transformative program featuring group learning sessions, individualized coaching, and a sweet Leadership 360 tool.

Yet they don’t seem tense or worried or afraid.


Greg Mutch

One minute they are deep in discussion about the latest opinions in leadership development. Then, when you least expect it, they crack a joke that is so hilarious you stop writing or stop eating or almost spit out your water.

Halfway through the conversation, to those around us, it looks like old friends are having a reunion over spring break. But I have never met Mutch and only briefly talked with Johnston a few times.

Even crazier? Mutch and Johnston met only 18 months earlier.

That’s how in-sync they are, how much chemistry they have, and how motivated they are about making leadership training significantly better.

And that energy spills over to those around them, providing a group synergy that makes time fly by. I can only imagine what multiple hours would be like with them.

Abbey - 17

Abbey Johnston

How did this happen, how did this perfect match occur?

“Work Tinder,” Mutch says with a straight face.

A moment passes and we all laugh. No, seriously, how?

Envision a movie montage with The Chainsmokers latest hit playing in the background. Then images of mutual friends. Introductions. Conversations. Johnston letting Mutch say a few words during one of her trainings. Soon mutual respect. Then a refreshing connection.

Mix that all together, shake, and add a joint passion around a unique leadership viewpoint and you have a dynamic partnership.

“I think what we found out when we started ‘work dating’ was we connected on the leadership development philosophy we take,” Johnston said. “This was pretty thrilling because, quite frankly, our philosophy isn’t necessarily mainstream. It’s transformative and revolutionary – but not mainstream.”

Disrupting the typical leadership training model

Enter the “Inner Game” philosophy.

Most leadership programs focus on the “Outer Game,” how to build external competencies – team building, collaboration, vision, etc.  Therefore, around the country every week, leaders attend a conference that appears will finally address one of these problematic areas in their life, Johnston said.

“They return from the conference – with energy – and a lot of information…and we see a difference.  We see them trying,” she said. “Then a week or two later our leaders behavior returns to the problematic patterns we were experiencing before the conference. This is a common scenario.”

And Inside Leadership has a name for it: limiting assumptions.
“It might be easier for people to understand them as blind spots,” Mutch said. “When our operating system runs with those blind spots ‘unexamined’ then they slow us down, hold us back, and create collateral damage to reduces our overall leadership effectiveness (and business results).”
To combat this broken system, Inside Leadership reverse engineers the typical leadership development philosophy. They learn who the leader is on the inside, what is causing their ineffective attempts at these competencies, to spark action on the outside. In other words, the stronger the “Inner Game,” the stronger the impact.
“Performance is an outcome of an inner game. Performance is driven by our ‘internal operating system’: our beliefs, story, values, passions, strengths and weaknesses,” Johnston said. “We can be consistently hitting the target as leaders – making great strides – but not quite be hitting the bullseye. We can’t fully live into our leadership potential if we haven’t grasped what our potential is.”

They also believe leadership is not positional, rather leadership is influence and showing up and impact.

“In that way everyone has the opportunity to be a leader,” Mutch said.

What Inside Leadership looks like

The cutting-edge program began where many interesting projects do: a college campus.

They started offering a version of Inside Leadership at Grand Valley State University (GVSU). After successful cohorts, word got out and they decided to expand beyond the campus setting.

“We had such remarkable results from the specific program we launched at GVSU. There was a lot of energy around it,” Johnston said. “We’ve been doing other variations of leadership development with other groups and companies.  However, what we launched with GVSU had a specific format that we knew we could effectively deliver for others.”

Inside Leadership, a 4-month program already underway this spring, moves beyond the typical workshop-driven leadership training to offer a more experience-based training. Plus, there’s a community of 10 – 12 individuals formed around it.

Let’s not forget out-of-this-world PowerPoint slides.

Oh, and as we touched on earlier, drumroll please, fun.

“While we dig deep in our sessions we also have a ton of fun. Greg and I love to get ‘real’ but we also love to have a ‘real’ good laugh,” Johnston said. “I think we have done a good job with balancing intensity with a little bit of banter.  One of Greg’s values is irreverence – need I say more?”

Team - 2

The fall cohort, which is open for registration now, kicks off with a 1-day retreat on Sept. 6, followed by individual coaching sessions to debrief your personal Leadership Circle Profile 360 results. Then group engagements, coaching sessions, and finally a half-day retreat. At the end, participants receive a Leadership Circle Profile 360 and StrengthsFinder assessment.

Plus they are more awake. Understand how they can grow their potential. Effectively aim their influence.

If the momentum continues, Mutch hopes Inside Leadership could expand stateside first and then even globally.

“We are exploring some additional cohorts regionally (Traverse City and Detroit), but the experience could be adapted and delivered anywhere (Ireland is on that list),” he said.

Back to lunch. Mutch jokingly brainstorms how to better market testimonials on the Web site. What if they add the signature “Mom,” after their testimonials? They don’t currently list names, it’s anonymous, so why not? Johnston cracks up, can’t stop laughing.

As we wrap up, it’s clear: Inside Leadership is blowing up. Get your autographs while you can.

“I love what I do,” Johnston said later. “I am honored and privileged every time I engage in this space. Our participants are brave and offer us endless amounts of insight and inspiration. #blessed.”

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Slate: Masculine, modern and exactly what Grand Rapids men need

Slate: Masculine, modern and exactly what Grand Rapids men need


Walking south down Ionia Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids has been remarkably familiar for a while.

Grand Rapids Brewing Company. Buffalo Wild Wings. Hopcat.

All great places, but all familiar, offering familiar pub food, familiar beer, and familiar decor.

Three months ago, however, a new business entered the neighborhood and familiar is the last word used to describe it.

Open the door to Slate, 44 Ionia Ave SW Suite #2, and you are suddenly transported to somewhere far from West Michigan. Think Magnificent Mile in Chicago, Toronto, downtown Charleston, South Carolina, or wait for it, maybe, just maybe New York City. I know bold, lofty comparisons, but I have visited those epic shopping districts in my day and the store stacks up.

It’s tough and modern and edgy and chill and most notably, an escape, a breath of  fresh air for men who want to make a lasting first impression, yet cringe when they think of settling for the mall – again.

In other words, exactly what Slate owner Stacy Mulder set out to create with her contractor.

I wanted a refined, masculine feel and they totally delivered. Seeing all the inventory in the space was so fun and was definitely a “pinch-me” type of moment.

Right away you notice the shiny floors. Wood displays hung on white walls. Rugs. Couch. Exposed duct work.

And, of course, Mulder, dressed to the T, sporting fancy shoes and a bright smile, ready to provide personalized service, you know, what you have to beg for anywhere else. Slate is the best of both worlds: big-city style mixed with a dash of small-city hospitality.

Why it’s about time

Don’t worry it’s not a suit store. It’s bursting at the seams with gear you can wear to the brewpub, The Lumineers concert, or Sunday brunch with the family.

slate 4

We’re talking T-shirts, jeans, sweaters, hats and accessories. And not from brands your eyes glaze over when you read them. Express has its place, just not in Slate. What happens in Vegas, doesn’t always stay in Vegas, thankfully. That’s where Mulder discovered plenty of brands she couldn’t live without.

Zadig & Voltaire.

J Lindeberg.


And that Grand Rapids hadn’t even lived with.

“My goal was to bring in brands that weren’t already in Grand Rapids,” she said.

Fashion-conscious men in West Michigan are searching for something different, according to Jenny Van Veen, an experienced retailer who owns Frances Jaye in downtown Holland, an independent store that offers stylish men’s and women’s clothing.

A lot of men who come into the store tell us that it’s hard to find unique and high quality men’s products in the area. I think they’re looking for clothes that are modern, comfortable, and cool but casual. We try to cultivate a collection that is trendy without being flashy, and has options for men who want the preppy look or guys with a more rustic style. We have some men’s clothes that could be worn in a job interview, and other styles that are perfect for a day on the beach or a hike in the woods.

Online reviews, which have already started to appear for Slate, seem to confirm the need and suggest Slate is succeeding at filling it.

“I’ve made several visits and attended the grand opening,” one Facebook review reads. “The staff goes above and beyond to help you out. The selection is perfect- there’s everything from tailed topcoats, to the softest jeans you’ll ever feel.”



How Slate was born

Like most great things, Slate didn’t happen overnight and it certainly didn’t result from a straight, easy path.

After high school, Mulder studied interiors, collaborative design and jewelry design at Kendall College in Grand Rapids. Those studies didn’t seem promising so she tried a more traditional approach, switching to a marketing major at Grand Valley State University.

I wasn’t a big fan of “real” school, so within the first few weeks I applied to FIDM (the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising) in downtown LA, got accepted and dropped the classes that wouldn’t transfer. I studied fashion merchandise marketing for about a year.

Then Mulder made another tough decision: she moved back home to Grand Rapids.

I was ready to just start working. I was able to do marketing for my dad (Snap Fitness franchisee). I definitely was ready to leave LA. I just needed to figure out what I wanted to do for a career long term besides just working for my dad.


Mulder chose to live downtown when she returned and noticed many men who worked or live downtown as well. Then a routine activity – walking her dog – sparked an interesting thought.


“It just dawned on me that we need a store specifically for men’s casual, everyday clothing,” she said. “I have always loved shopping so it seemed like it was totally up my alley.”

And her friends and family didn’t think she was crazy. In fact, they were supportive, just like they’ve always been, Mulder said.

Slate held its grand opening on Dec. 3. It was a big deal, with Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss in attendance. Bliss said she was encouraged by what she saw.

Slate is an important part of the continued growth of our city and a great addition to our local economy. As a community, we support the entrepreneurial spirit – and we thank Stacy for joining the growing list of small businesses that call Grand Rapids home and playing a key role in the vibrancy of our downtown.

Like her friends and family, the neighborhood businesses have also been supportive, enjoying the foot traffic the store is bringing to the area.

Moving ahead, Slate is focusing on its recently launched online store and hosting events, such as Sip & Shop, where men can come after hours and shop, at a discount, with refreshments.

Mulder is thankful for Slate, the opportunity, the next step, and the clarity she feels right now, right here.

“It was fun out in California,” she said. “But there’s no place like home.”
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5 Grand Rapids bloggers to start following now

5 Grand Rapids bloggers to start following now

Blogging is an amazing way to connect with people, share important stories, and inspire people to act.

But actually doing it is difficult.

It takes discipline. Creativity. Effort.

Consequently, a lot of people start a blog and quickly stop updating it a few weeks later.

However, these Grand Rapids-based bloggers have bucked the trend. The bloggers produce stellar, actually incredible, content on a regular basis.

I haven’t met them all, but I am proud of them, proud of them for representing the blogging world, right here in West Michigan.

So… start following!

#health / #nutrition / #realfood


1. Kelly – Kelly the Kitchen Kop

I first encountered Kelly when she was a guest speaker for my grad school class on entrepreneurship. She talked about how cool it was to be a full-time blogger. Hard, but cool. Kelly has been doing this for 10 YEARS. That’s a long time in the blogging world. She has hundreds of recipes, tips, information and resources you can, uh, digest.


#grandrapids / #parenting / #travel / #family

mid city love

2. Nichole Kladder – Mid City Love

I have been following this blog for awhile and, like Grand Rapids has, it keeps getting cooler. The design is crazy professional. So are the photos. West Michigan is a wonderful place to raise a family and this blog offers a unique lens… snapshot… viewpoint of what’s happening at the ground level. Here’s great line from the most recent post:

 I’m an even bigger fan of the unconditional love marriage has brought to our lives. I personally think marriage unfairly gets a bad reputation and if I can step on my soapbox for a moment, I completely disagree! Marriage rocks and Valentines Day is a solid excuse to shout it from the rooftops!

Wow. As Rob Bell would say, “So good!” Do yourself a favor and fall in love with Mid City Love.


#business / #publishing / #art / #creativity


3. Chad R. Allen – Chad R.

Chad entered my world after I heard him on The Portfolio Life with Jeff Goins, a podcast with a strong audience across the country. When he mentioned he lived in Grand Rapids, I was like “must. reach. out.” I did and we connected over some crafts. Chad is full of ideas and super experienced, learning from and rolling with some of the most successful online entrepreneurs today. His blog helps creatives discover how to share their work with the world and, if they want to, get published. Chad’s online community comments regularly so that’s a nice element to follow as well. Connect with this guy before he gets too big!



#nightlife/ #events / #culture / #grandrapids


4. Sara Visser – The GR Guide

Before fall of 2016, I considered myself fairly in the know when it came to Grand Rapids activities. Then I stumbled across The GR Guide. This blog ninja-kicked me in the face. Sara not only writes about amazing events and places in Grand Rapids, she experiences them, offering photos of her at Griffins’ games or restaurants or coffee shops or wherever. What’s different about her blog is it’s organized into short sentences under sections labeled events, local links and “my latest obsessions this week” (best heading ever). If you are looking for something to do this week, and your default isn’t dinner and a movie, check out Sara’s outstanding work.


#self-improvement / #habits / #women / #business / #grandrapids


5. Kristin Jones –

I am a huge fan of intentional living and self-improvement and taking control of your life. I consume that content regularly through books, podcasts, and blogs. So I was intrigued when I discovered Kristen was covering this topic locally with posts like “How to have more happiness & ease throughout your day.” Yes, please. Now her audience is more “empowered babes” but even if you’re not, she has posts like “Favorite coffee shops in Grand Rapids MI,” an extremely practical post for a professional obsessed with coffee, such as myself. Now, go, improve your life!

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Jenna Sage: Managing the trendiest 20,000 square feet in Grand Rapids

Jenna Sage: Managing the trendiest 20,000 square feet in Grand Rapids

Leaving downtown Grand Rapids, it’s easy to stop paying attention and focus on just getting home.

Understandable after a long day of work, but a mistake.

A mistake? Yeah, you read that right. There are hidden gems popping up everywhere in the neighborhoods adjacent to the ever-popular downtown. 

One of those, a place I literally just learned about it, is The Cheney Place.

Located about a mile and half north of Devos Place on Monroe Avenue, this venue is not your mother’s, father’s, grandmother’s or grandfather’s event space. It’s an urban boutique space. What Pinterest would look like in real life.

And it’s all run by a Millennial with cool frames, the Jenna Sage.

What makes The Cheney Place keep growing? Let’s hear from Jenna in her own words.

Credit: Studio 6.23 Photography

When TCP first opened, it was family run by a mother-daughter team. An old co-worker of mine was the first non-family employee and when they expanded she recommended me to come in and help with event coordination.

It started very part time about three years ago and has morphed into my beautiful thing I’d call my dream job. I’ve been around through the transition of owners, lots of design changes, employees changes, and growth, so really I’ve been around for it all since the venue is only 4 years old.

Right now, I’m managing the space, working with all of our clients from bookings, design elements (floor plans, vintage furniture, linens) to putting their day of team together. I also oversee our really cool team of coordinators and interns. While I love working with clients, as the venue grows, so does my role so I’ve transitioned a few times to create new jobs and even create new elements of the business.

The Cheney Place is a space truly like no other. The building is a 50,000 square foot old furniture factory… come on, that’s pretty cool! Our clients get 20,000 square feet of event space for ceremonies, receptions, cocktail hour or even just a meeting.

Even just as an empty warehouse, the space has so much potential and our clients can feel it. What’s even better is our second floor is always decked out with vintage and mid-century furniture, chandeliers and cool plants… it basically says cool vibes and take my picture (if it could talk, haha).

Credit: Studio 6.23 Photography

Our real asset is our team, each member is hand selected for their role. We do what we do because we actually love it. We’re in hospitality to serve people… mainly that looks like taking care of everything a bride could worry about on leading up to and on her wedding day!

Credit: Studio 6.23 Photography

I’ve spent the past three years working at one of the coolest venues in Grand Rapids so of course, I’ve met a ton of cool vendors. It’s really being here long term and connecting over and over again with the same cool vendors that allows me to build connections and network. The wedding industry is cool, I’ve made so many connections professionally but at the end of the day, so many of them have become friends! I think those connections lead to mutual recommendations for both TCP and other vendors!

Where are we headed? Haha… for weddings on weddings on weddings is my simple answer. The wedding industry is always changing and we like to be on the front line for new trends and cool designs and we do have a few areas we’re still sprucing up. The whole gang here and the owners, have spent the last few years building an incredible business that’s really taken off. 2017 is about doing what we love, and a whole lot of it!


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Young & Restless: This Grand Rapids Meetup group is growing and here’s why

Young & Restless: This Grand Rapids Meetup group is growing and here’s why

A majority of general networking events these days are predictable.

The sequence of events tend to be the following: You show up. Put on a name tag. Grab some cold vegetables or fruit. Maybe a coffee. Then stand around. Small talk.

Nothing real interesting comes out of it and you leave frustrated, because there was no structure, no real point and no new connections.


Sound familiar?

I love networking and I have totally been there. But don’t worry because a new technology is at work, and yes, it’s an app: Meetup.

Meetup provides an online platform for people interested in similar things, whether business or hobbies, helping them create vibrant groups that then meet in-person regularly. I am part of a digital marketing one and hopefully an investment one soon, but one Grand Rapids-based Meetup really intrigued me.

Young & Restless meets at non-traditional networking times, such as Sunday mornings, and brings in stellar guests, such as former Failure Lab co-founder and 5×5 night ambassador Austin Dean. So I decided to reach out to group co-founder Nicole Zaagman and find out where Young & Restless is headed in 2017.

When I say I am going to a event, my wife is very skeptical. If it’s seriously not Tinder, what exactly is Meetup?

Haha, Tinder 😉 Well Meetup to me is a great online tool to meet new and interesting people in your professional field or based on your common interests. I’ve met some really cool souls through and made lots of new friends along the way.

NICOLEZAAGMAN-sqYou have a waiting list for your next event. Ball-er. How did you come up with your specific group – Young and Restless – and how did it become so popular?

Great question! Like most great ideas, Young & Restless was born out of frustration. I originally co-founded the group with two other local GR chaps in January 2016.

We were a bit irritated and tired of the “traditional” networking scene. We created Young & Restless to be a comfortable networking space for other “young at heart” freelancers, creatives and entrepreneurs who wanted to connect share and make a positive difference with their work.

In the past year, I’ve taken over the group and hosted an event every month. Popularity? I’d say the name and the concept and the structured, yet casual atmosphere.  

Ask a friend to attend a networking event with you and some people’s body language turns to the “get-away-from-me-right-now-or-I-will-so-defriend-you” look. Is there a way to make it less scary?

Like I say in my book, Bee BADASS and Brilliant, Bee YOU! Let the true you shine and don’t give a second thought to others opinions. If your friend doesn’t want to go with you, but you’d like to – just do it anyway!

I’ve met more people going to things solo than if I had a (no offense) “friend crutch” with me.

… Just focus on being authentic and ask genuine questions when meeting new faces. Sure I’ve had my fair share of networking events that bombed or that didn’t resonate – but that’s the beauty of being an adult. You can make your own choices and decide to leave early or try a different group. Sometimes we also have to get a little out of our comfort circles. I’ve personally had the most growth in my life when I did things that didn’t come easy at first – networking was definitely one of those things!



How has the group personally helped you and your business?

Hosting Young & Restless every month has opened the door to more connections and local businesses who have been happy to host our gatherings.

It’s provided me the opportunity to cultivate my own leadership skills and influence in the greater Grand Rapids business community and encourage others to do the same. 

In terms of my business? It’s a great word of mouth piece and face-to-face opportunity to share what my company LUX CHIX (creative agency for holistic brands) is all about and talk about the projects and clients I am working on presently. To anyone considering creating their own group, it’s a terrific opportunity to take your connecting and influence to new heights at a relatively low investment point.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it and reach out to Nicole. Need assistance with your content marketing? Contact me today!

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