Could You be a Vistage Chair?

iglasshalfBeing a chair is rewarding in so many ways. We are our own boss; we get to be intimately involved in the lives of our members; we get to continue to learn from world-class experts in their fields and we can earn from $5-$10k a month, based on group size, for five days work a month (once the group is up and running). If you want to earn more, chairs who have multiple groups, and or bring the Vistage experience inside of companies, can earn considerably more – again based on group size and type. Vistage corporate handles billing, schedules the speakers we request, provides ongoing chair training and the ability to be a part of a larger community. We chairs have our own group meetings where we share best-practices and sharpen our saws.

It’s a good model and yet, like any kind of business, building a group takes a lot of hard work and an illusive aptitude that folks at headquarters have been trying to figure out forever.

Just because someone can run a business, does not necessarily mean they can be a Vistage chair.

My colleagues may think otherwise, but I think it comes down to two things beyond the requisite resume full of accomplishments.

1. Are you a really good listener?
2. Is the glass half full? Or half empty?

That last one I heard from the person who interviewed me oh so long ago. She sent me through a battery of psychological testing, video interviews, intense chair training and then said,

“Truth is, I can tell if a candidate is going to make it if they are ‘glass half full’ types. If they start complaining about obstacles, and the glass is half empty, I think: Uh oh.”

In the course of my 11 years as a Vistage chair I’ve nominated five chair candidates. Two have active chair practices, one in Florida and another in Baton Rouge and I have three others in various stages of the process. I’m careful about who I nominate because I don’t want anyone I care about to fail. This job just isn’t for everyone.

What’s the secret? If you want to be a chair, think about when you are in conversation with people. How much of the time are you talking? How much of the time are you listening and asking follow-up questions? If you need to be the center of attention, and the smartest person in the room – this isn’t good or bad or right or wrong, it’s just an indication that you wouldn’t be a successful chair (in my opinion).

If you are naturally inquisitive, non-judgmental, with an extra healthy dose of persistence, then give me a call and I’ll gladly talk you through the process of becoming a chair.

Of all the various jobs I’ve held, I think being a radio Talk Show Host probably was the most applicable experience I’ve had to being a chair. I was the morning host of a 50,000 Watt station covering the entire state of Iowa. It was just me, a microphone, and our call-in audience (before cell phones, mind you!). I had to learn what would compel the audience to light up those phone lines. What questions would get to a meaty and lively discussion?

My path is my path. There are chairs all over the world, each of whom have come to this place with a very different set of skills and experience. I’ve marveled at the diversity assembled at international chair conferences…a retired military officer, now chair, may be seated next to a long-haired former therapist, who also is a chair. They and their groups couldn’t be more different, and yet here we are.

If this hasn’t scared you away, but rather is kind of exciting, contact me and l’ll go into more detail about just what’s in this half-full glass. It could be just the right fit.

Why do some people get folks to say ‘yes’ and others don’t?

Dean Minuto has it all figured out.

This award-winning Vistage speaker appeared before our group several years ago and when I heard he had a new talk, I immediately booked him for a return engagement.

When Dean gave his first presentation to our group, one of my members had a big sales pitch he was going to make the next day so almost

minutopixdecided to skip our Vistage meeting because he thought he ought to spend the day preparing for the pitch. Instead, he DID come to our meeting, and it’s a decision he says earned him $12 million.

Why? He completely re-worked his materials and re-ordered what he was  going  to say to the prospective client, after learning from Dean how people make buying decisions.

He realized he needed to spend LESS time about his company and all the wonderful things they do and spend MORE time addressing the clients’ fears and concerns. That’s an oversimplification, of course, but Dean Minuto’s presentation gave our member a new way of looking at how their company made sales presentations and he saw he needed to make a dramatic overhaul.

As a result, the member won a $12 million dollar contract he had previously thought was a long-shot of earning.

Dean will be our speaker on December 12 from 8:30 until noon in the conference room of RMF Engineering, 5520 Research Park Drive, Baltimore (in the UMBC Office Park).  If you are the CEO or decision-maker for your organization and have an interest in exploring Vistage membership and would like an invitation to hear him speak, email me:

Don’t bother if you have all the business you want and everyone around you does what you want them to do.


Steve Jobs…

I watched ‘Steve Jobs: One Last Thing’ last night and keep thinking about something he said in an interview when he was a much younger man. It was when he realized the world had been shaped by people who weren’t any smarter than he was and how much that ah-ha (my words, not his) propelled him to extraordinary accomplishments. Here’s the clip:


At about the six-month mark of a Vistage members’ anniversary with the group I’ll check in and ask them how their experience matches what their expectations were prior to joining us. 

A common response is: It’s great to see I’m not the only one dealing with these issues. Maybe I’m not so dumb after all.

What the rest of his or her world would be shocked to learn is that some of the most successful people today are shadowed by the thought that they really aren’t as smart as people think they are. Some how they are a fraud. They just got lucky. 

The transformation in that moment can lead to a self-acceptance and confidence that can cause the member to grow exponentially. 


On-boarding three new members tomorrow

Merit Gest Onboarding Specialist

Merit Gest
Onboarding Specialist

Our Vistage group will have three new members starting tomorrow so I’m taking advice from Vistage speaker Merit Gest who gives an eye-opening presentation about on-boarding newcomers to an organization. As a result,  I’m spending a little more  time preparing for their arrival.  (Vistage works)

Vistage itself is a rather unusual business model. The customer is also the product.  Vistage is an international organization but for the member it is what we chairs show them it is in our small groups of 12-16. The loyalty is not to the brand but to their fellow members and chair.  And it is the group culture that creates the member experience  so it is critical we chairs select the right fit and then set the context for what’s expected of members. As for member selection, we need to make sure we have a variety of personality styles, diversity in skill-sets, gender, age, and type of business. I will have two very young entrepreneurs in my group, and although their employee-size is much smaller than many around the table, they will bring a point-of-view that will be critical in the strategic thinking process of the rest of the group.

I’ve witnessed a question from a 30-year-old to a 63-year-old alter the course of the elder’s business.

I’m assembling notebooks for not only the new members but am making one for everyone in the group as a reminder of the basics.  It will include a copy of our group norms (always a good thing to revisit), forms for outlining how we process an issue and our one-to-one coaching meeting. I’ll include a template about what a Host Presentation needs to look like and an explanation of what our monthly check-in should entail. This is a good reminder for all of us.

I’m assigning an existing member to each newcomer with the task of making sure they are introduced to everyone else and have their questions answered. I’ll seat the two of them side by side.

I also sent the newcomers an email letting them know to dress casually. This may seem like a small detail, but it’s not, according to Gest. It’s important to let newcomers know the standards and culture in advance. You don’t want an employee showing up dressed casually when the culture is more formal, nor in our case, do you want someone sitting around in a coat and tie on the first day when everyone else is wearing a Polo shirt. The faster they feel as if they are one of the tribe, the faster they will open up and jump on in.

Speaker Gest makes a compelling case about the ROI of successful on-boarding of newcomers. She walks members through an exercise that demonstrates the cost of turnover and that successfully on-boarding newcomers can make a big difference in employee satisfaction and retention.

Same principle applies to new Vistage members.

Here’s our group culture guide:

Vistage 3399










Tomorrow, I’m going to ask one of the members of our group to read this list. It will be included in the notebooks I’m preparing for new and existing members. Some times I even tape it to the wall inside the restrooms where our meeting is being held.

And, yes, we DO have fun inside and outside the room together.


P.S. If you’re a chair, please add any thoughts about how you onboard new members!

This Takes Guts


I spoke with fellow Vistage chair Bill Buxton, Carrboro, North Carolina, this morning about a program he has in place for his Vistage groups. Since one of my members placed an employee in Bill’s Key Executive group several years ago, I learned of this Tiger Team 360 idea and am toying with seeing if my group wants to give it a try.

Just prior to a members’ turn to host the monthly Vistage meeting, a team of two or three other members of his/her group go into the company and interview the direct reports about the targeted member.

This takes guts. And time.

And yet, how valuable would it be for a member to get this kind of feedback?

This practice is a part of Buxton’s group norms and he says his members would be up in arms if he retired the practice.

Tim Griffin, principal and branch manager of the North Carolina office of RMF Engineering based in Baltimore, is a Key Executive of one of my members. He  has been through three Tiger Team exercises where he was the subject and says they have been ‘very impactful’.

I asked him what surprised him about what he learned when it was his turn to be the beneficiary of the Tiger Team feedback

“Several things,” said Griffin. “Each time is tough because you hear things you don’t want to hear. However I’ve grown and seen others grow from theirs.

“I had tension between teams in my office I was unaware of, or at least to the degree they existed. Although I had an open door policy, some of my direct reports needed regular one-on-ones.

“Some of the comments I once received forced a conversation between my boss and myself which was healthy and helped me get on the same page with him.

“The last report revealed significant tensions existed in my office with our IT support that needed to be addressed.”

So how does this Tiger Team process work?

Buxton selects two or three people to serve on the Tiger Team. The member identifies the people to be interviewed, ‘interviewed’ being the operative word. Buxton underscores to the Tiger Team members that they are not to go in with an agenda, preconceived notions, or be directive. Their task is to find out what is being said around the ‘watercolor’ about their Vistage member colleagues. And listen. Here are some of the suggested questions:

    • What is the long-term plan and vision here?
    • What’s working?
    • What could be better?
    • What are the leaders areas of strength? Weakness?
    • On a scale of 1-10 how would you rate the members effectiveness? What would it take to be a 10?
    • If you had a magic wand, what would you change?
    • What would you like to see more of from this CEO? What would you like to see less of?
    • What does he/she need to start doing? Stop doing?
    • Buxton says overall this exercise is extremely valuable, but yes, he did lose a member who didn’t like what he heard.
    • That said, his groups have been doing this long enough that they’ve had more than one turn in the barrel and the follow-up Tiger Team report has seen noticeable improvement in workplace perceptions and alignment of what’s really going on.
    • Certainly, there are many consultants who offer 360 review assessments (for a price). And, yes, they are valuable for that moment in time. But imagine what it would be like if your Vistage group, a CEO peer group –  your very own private advisory board  –  could have that kind of holistic view of you and your company?
    • I’m going to see if my group would like to give it a try.
    • I’ll let you know how it goes.

C*****, is this a dirty word to you?

Change is inevitable. How we manage it is  up to us.

There are MAGIC reasons why people join our group.

M – Making better decisions.

A – Accountability.

G – Growth, personal and professional.

I – Isolation (it IS lonely at the top).

C – Change. How do you currently manage change.

As I scrolled through my Facebook page today I caught up with the latest round of layoffs at The Des Moines Register, where I wrote a daily feature column in the 1980s. Nine more laid off. And this is on top of several such stories throughout the past decade.

One fellow former staffer posted a reply to the story that ‘had the industry invested in Research and Development before the internet became ubiquitous the story could be a different one today’. Perhaps.

I remember marching into our publisher’s office when I first discovered CompuServe, AOL and Prodigy in the early 1990s and said this was going to change the communications industry and he rolled his eyes.  He didn’t own a computer and his experience was that every new fangled form of communication was always heralded as the end of newspapers: first radio, then television and now this strange thing called the internet. Phooey.

And then it began. Classified advertising? Gone. Real Estate advertising? Diminished beyond recognition.

I wonder what would have happened had the newspaper industry been on the forefront of the technology movement instead of lagging behind?

If you’re the CEO, how are you managing change? Are there disrupters out there that could put you out of business?

One of my favorite Vistage speaker topics is about futurism. It gives the folks in our group a chance to think ABOUT the business, not just managing the day-to-day tasks of working IN the business.

Are you taking the time to work ON your business as well as IN your business?

Will This Disrupt YOUR Business?

Are you ready?

Are you ready?

Here’s a question I posed to my Vistage group last month:

“Who here knows much about 3-D printing and what do you think the impact will be on your business?”

Older members hadn’t considered it while our 30-year-old member not only knows about it, but knows people in the industry, thus underscoring the importance of having a broad-cross section of ages at the Vistage table.

NASA designed and fabricated a key part for a rocket engine this way, according to a Fox News science report, shaving six months and 70 percent off the cost of production.

For the home user, evidence of the imaginations of early adopters can be found on 3-D3

Vistage speaker David Houle makes a career out of predicting, warning and extolling the potential possibilities future changes can create, giving members who pay attention an advantage over competitors who could be left behind if they don’t manage change correctly.

Here’s my Q&A with Houle about 3-D printing:

Q –  I think 3-D printing could be a huge disruptor. Do you?

A – Yes I do, but it is part of a much larger issue, which is the complete redefinition of the word manufacturing.  It is the lead story of the change in manufacturing from mass to custom.  I have spoken of this to Vistage members years ago.

Q – Who will be most impacted? What should vistage companies be doing to embrace or prepare for changes brought by this technology?

A – Manufacturing was largely defined by Henry Ford 100 years ago and manufacturing has been about mass, scale and volume ever since.  3-D printing is the beginning of the redefinition of manufacturing from mass to custom in the 21st century.  There will still be a need for mass manufacturing, but increasingly custom manufacturing will, due to transformative technologies, allow custom, one off production to rival the cost of mass production.

The United States, given that it is the most innovative and entrepreneurial country in the world can now take the lead in 21st century manufacturing.  Custom, high quality products produced close to the end user, which eliminates the need for costly long distance shipping from China, will allow Vistage members who are in the manufacturing business to bring their supply chain back to this country.
Disruptor is an understatement.
Most impacted?  Manufacturing companies that don’t think they need to innovate.  China and other low production cost countries that supply the United States.
Vistage companies in the manufacturing sector should have the right person in their organization consider buying a 3-D printer or perhaps first have a custom part made by a 3-D printing company and compare the cost and the quality.
This technology, as most, will become ever less expensive and with ever greater quality, range, power and efficiency.  Those in the manufacturing sector who do not think 3-D printing and the custom manufacturing business it is introducing into the market is important risk going out of business by 2020.  

Futurist David Houle talks about what's around the corner.

Futurist David Houle talks about what’s around the corner.

If you’re an employer, here’s a suggestion. Ask around and find out what the awareness level is on your staff of 3-D printing.  Find out who would be interested in looking into ways your company might be impacted. How will it impact your vendors? Clients? The economy? The country? The world? Brainstorm to the possibilities. What would be a best-case scenario for your business? Worst case? What can you do to get ahead of your competitors?
So, what is 3-D printing? Lisa Harouni gives a Ted Talk primer. 
Once a month our members come together to work ‘on’ the business, not ‘in’ the business; one of the many reasons Vistage works.