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.

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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.

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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).”
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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?”

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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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Ryan Wenk: How ‘right person, right seat’ fuels Worksighted’s explosive growth

Ryan Wenk: How ‘right person, right seat’ fuels Worksighted’s explosive growth
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Ryan Wenk

As Ryan Wenk prepared to graduate from Northwood University, he developed a list of 50 companies he was interested in working for.

They were different sizes and different industries, but all based in Michigan. Wenk reached out to them all, eventually talking with 10 businesses, before booking meetings with about five companies in his original top 50.

One of the meetings? A relatively small tech company, with just over 30 employees at the time, based in Holland, Mich.

Worksighted.

Barry Rice, director of sales and marketing at the time, helped Wenk learn more about Worksighted’s past and future, and what potential opportunities might be available when he graduated.

Once he did graduate, Wenk had offers from companies on Michigan’s East Side, but he couldn’t quite shake his positive experience with Worksighted. So he made a phone call.

“I had a good feeling this would be a good fit for me. Quickly after, I had an offer from Worksighted – within a week I accepted the offer, graduated, and moved to Holland, a place where I knew no one,” Wenk recalls. “Looking back it is pretty unbelievable at times, in some ways I got lucky, but in a lot of ways I setup myself up for success by knowing what I wanted in a career, and being proactive to find a place that would align with my vision.”

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Welcome to the team, Employee #34.

Since that special moment nearly three years ago, a moment that seemed almost destined, Wenk has helped promote the heck out of Worksighted, a firm that has almost doubled to about 65 employees and increased its revenue to an estimated $12 million in 2017.

He’s the marketing manager now, experimenting, talking strategy, and, like everyone at Worksighted, blazing new trails. The company is only 17-years-old after all.

“Having the opportunity to develop a strategy and execute on it at this level, this early in my career is amazing,” Wenk said. “Since every day presents a new challenge, we also have the opportunity to learn something new every day. Having a direct impact on the success of Worksighted on a day-to-day basis is the most valuable thing to me – I’m enjoying the ride and loving every second of it, including the failures.”

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Image at Worksighted headquarters in Holland

Creating a job for himself

Wenk didn’t start as marketing director, of course, he had to earn it.

But thanks to Worksighted’s innovative, wait, let’s try a different phrase, employee-focused work culture, that’s better, Wenk had the leadership support to find the perfect spot for him.

Which brings us to Right person, right seat, a core company principle.

Wenk began his Worksighted journey as a sales representative, meaning he helped qualify potential clients and set appointments for senior representatives.

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Six months in he discovered, however, it was difficult to land appointments because Worksighted had a limited brand awareness. Even though marketing hadn’t crossed his mind as a full-time career path, he had marketing experience in his internships, so Wenk recognized an opportunity.

Honest, open communication is encouraged at Worksighted, allowing him to approach leadership with no worries. He pitched them the value in having a dedicated marketing person on the team – someone to align sales and marketing to build brand awareness and continue growth. He felt he should transition into it.

In other words, right person, wrong seat.

“It’s not that I don’t think I could have been successful in sales, but marketing is a more natural fit for me,” Wenk said. “The leadership team knew I was a good culture fit, and were willing to take a risk and let me develop the marketing. Eight months later, I was officially moved into a dedicated marketing position.”

Right person, right seat.

Wenk started learning marketing hands-on, just the way he likes it.

“I learn through doing things, not through reading online or in class,” he said, speaking from a conference room with an orange accent wall to his left, a slim laptop in front of him, keeping an occasional eye on the Tuesday happenings at the company. “I am given the freedom to try new things.”

What he’s selling

People. Simple as that.

Sure, Worksighted has incredible IT support services that help businesses grow by aligning their technology with their business goals. Employees manage IT services for companies and help implement new IT projects for companies.

If they didn’t take care of business there, Worksighted wouldn’t have clients in Holland and Grand Rapids and Lansing and the Detroit area. Or be opening a satellite office in the Wixom area.

That said, competing IT companies also offer similar services. So why Worksighted?

Well, Wenk is confident Worksighted’s people stack up. Their skills first and foremost. But their passion, that’s the secret sauce, my friend.

“People come to work every day and love what they do,” he said.  “The difference is the people who deliver the services.”

That leads to next-level customer service. And happy customers.

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Mike Harris, co-founder and vice president of Worksighted, touched on this during his speech at TEDxMacatawa on Tuesday. He said businesses today must deliver outcomes, not just value. And they must have a strong belief in the outcomes they care about, gain alignment around it, build trust, innovate, pull in new people from outside and then, and only then, deliver incredible outside value.

“The days of a job is just a job are over,” Harris said. “A job is a cause.”

He promoted the idea of growth through coaching, letting employees drive and figure things out, because they might just be more careful and effective in some areas than the business owner.

“Trust them,” Harris said.

Worksighted trusted Wenk to deliver on his desire to transform the company’s brand awareness. And he has. And he will continue to. He’s motivated because he’s not marketing a widget, he’s marketing people he enjoys and a home away from home.

“If you are not really passionate about what you are marketing, it’s not going to be as quality as it could be,” Wenk said. “I haven’t dreaded coming to work one day since I have been here.”

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3 Essential Tricks to Improve Millennials’ Work Performance

3 Essential Tricks to Improve Millennials’ Work Performance

FEATURED (1)

The Millennials Dilemma

You’re ambitious, hard-working, laser-focused, prepared to stay late, passionate about what you do, and ready to move up in the world.

So why do your peers and those younger than you, the ones you desperately try to manage well, appear to hold the opposite viewpoint?

  • They’re afraid to take chances.
  • They’re unable to communicate effectively with someone new.
  • They’re lacking the diverse set of skills required to accomplish groundbreaking projects.

The answer is rather simple. They’re millennials.

Grand Rapids Millenial

Photo Credit: Death to Stock Photo

Everyone is talking about them, but few can articulate how to help overcome their weaknesses.

Don’t get us wrong, millennials are crushing it in the empathy category, the technology category, and the working-with-a-purpose category. But there’s room for improvement.

Ruby on Rapids reached out to both local and national proponents of millennials with a goal of helping West Michigan millennials become, for the lack of a better phrase, all that they can be.

 

1. Let them fail … gracefully

Kristen Hadeed

Kristen Hadeed, national speaker

Kristen Hadeed is quickly becoming a leading national expert on millennials – how they work and how to motivate them and why they act so weird and why they are so valuable. A millennial herself, Hadeed founded Student Maid, a Florida-based cleaning startup, and serves as CEO of MaidSuite, a software application designed to streamline scheduling in the cleaning industry.

Hadeed, who spoke in Holland last year, said she’s noticed one glaring weakness among her peers: recent graduates are lacking in confidence.

“Some people may not consider confidence to be a skill, but lacking confidence can be a huge detriment to job performance and overall success,” Hadeed told Ruby on Rapids.

“A lot of these students grew up receiving praise and accolades for everything they did–no matter how well–from their parents and teachers, and now that they have to compete in the job market, they are realizing that the skills they thought they had aren’t cutting it,” she said.

The fear of failure also keeps confidence low.

“Schools should inspire confidence in students by helping them understand what they are truly good at and reminding them that it’s OK to fail, ” Hadeed said. “Getting back up and trying again makes you a stronger candidate, not weaker.​”

 

2. Teach them to communicate the old school way

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Emily Davisson, state champion Forensics coach

Emily Davisson, also a millennial, is a state champion Forensics participant and coach in the metro Detroit area.

She’s a passionate advocate for Forensics, which is best understood as a student’s unique, individual interpretation of literature – a student researching, composing, editing, and performing their own original speech on a relevant topic. 

Unfortunately, budget cuts at many high schools, colleges, and universities have reduced or eliminated Forensics programs. That leaves millennials, who already struggle to communicate face-to-face thanks to technology distractions, with even less opportunities to learn valuable speaking skills.

“The skills one learns in Forensics are the exact skills employers aspire their employees to possess,” Davisson said. “It is a proven fact that the number one skill any employer, regardless of the industry, desires is excellent communication skills. These skills are what forensicators thrive on.”

Hadeed’s experience from running Student Maid confirms Davisson’s point.

While some millennial employees prefer to just text instead of using phone calls or in-person communication, her company doesn’t tolerate it.

“We require face-to-face communication,” Hadeed said during her Everybody Matters Podcast interview published on Jan. 26, 2016.

Require in-person meetings for certain issues or projects. Approach your millennial employees and initiate a face-to-face conversation instead of firing off another e-mail. Challenge them to present at the next company training session.

Old school? Sure. Effective? You bet.

 

3. Provide them with interesting problems to solve

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Brian Davis, Holland Public Schools superintendent

Brian Davis is an innovative superintendent (more than 2,100 Twitter followers) leading Holland Public Schools into the era of “21st Century Skills”. Think project teams, oral communication, collaboration, and critical thinking, not iPads or Chromebooks.

“Most people think the device is 21st Century,” Davis said. “It’s not.”

After consulting with various local employers, from small businesses to corporations, Davis and his district realized they needed to train students to solve interesting problems together. That means project-based learning, taking a real-world issue and empowering students to solve it.

“(Employers) want people who collaborate and work with other people well,” Davis said. “I think what we are trying to do with kids today is answer the ‘so what?'”

You can apply the same concept in your workplace.

Have a problem you don’t have time for? Assign a team of millennials to solve it and you’ll be amazed at the results.

Just ensure they understand the ‘so what?'” And give them enough tools to succeed. Oh, and make it interesting.

Conclusion

There you have it. A basic framework to help you lead the talented, yet challenging millennials that form the backbone of your technology firm.

Let them fail.

Teach them to communicate.

Give them a cool project.

Repeat.

 

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