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.
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.
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.”
“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).”
“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?”
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.”