When the most recent graduates of a BIA leadership program finished a six-month training session in early spring, they could not have known they were about to immediately be thrust into an environment where those newly learned skills would become vital.
However, thanks to Emerging Leader Training — a program created by the BIA in collaboration with Sojourn Partners, a Bedford-based executive leadership coaching firm — when the coronavirus pandemic arrived in New Hampshire and affected every aspect of business, this group was well prepared.
“This is when leaders emerge,” Sojourn Partners President and CEO Russ Ouellette says. “This is when we find them.”
An ongoing series of training sessions designed to develop confidence and competencies for leadership, Emerging Leader Training puts New Hampshire businesses in a position to recognize potential assets, and to prepare them as a force for sustainability and growth.
“One of the top concerns of employers is talent recruitment, finding qualified employees,” BIA President Jim Roche says. “Emerging Leader Training is an important program because it allows our members to further hone the values and skills of up-and-comers within their enterprises. The program is a catalyst for their continued growth and development.”
The fact that the latest session ended just before Gov. Chris Sununu’s executive stay-at-home order changed everything was coincidental, of course, but it created a situation when all of the classroom learning during Emerging Leader Training suddenly became instantly applicable.
“We talk a lot about change, and we’re going through a change right now,” Ouellette says. “Change is systemic and it’s everywhere, and we talk about how the only thing that’s consistent is change, and how you embrace it. We address people’s feelings, about how they may go into denial, and we learn things about coming out of denial and how to bring people through it.”
Classes meet once a month, for six months, and are led by Ouellette and his team through topics such as discovering leadership purpose; interpersonal management and communication; managing strategy and change; and becoming an influencer, among others. Perhaps most immediately relevant, however, were the classes that centered on change, emotional intelligence and personal leadership.
“Just because someone goes to engineering school or is a lawyer or a CPA, it doesn’t mean they’ve had the training to lead in an organization,” Ouellette says. “Most people use the tools their parents taught them or what they’ve learned from the people they work with and for. But the world is changing. It’s becoming flatter and people are becoming more empowered. Leadership is becoming more personal.”
Sessions are customized, applicable, and hands-on. The result: Real behavioral change that begins immediately.
“I didn’t have any preconceived notions going into the program,” says Matthias Downey, product design engineer at Sturm, Ruger & Co. “However, when I first read the program overview, I was eager to participate. I am always looking to better myself and to become a more effective team leader, so the sections on interpersonal management and communication really caught my eye.”
Downey was initially selected to participate by the company’s vice president of operations, who hoped to learn if the program would be a viable training tool for additional emerging leaders. Downey reported back that it was.
“What makes this program unique is how the Sojourn Partners team approaches leader-ship through the coaching and development process,” Downey says. “Sojourn leverages their collective experience to provide a personalized framework for an effective leader — not only for the individual but for an effective leader within the corresponding organization. The results are confident and authentic leaders who will execute positive, sustainable change.”
Sojourn’s experts focused on that specific topic in its “Managing Strategy and Change” session. Participants were brought through scenarios encouraging them to become strategic thinkers and decision-makers, forming a deeper understanding with the people they manage and moving them through the process.
“It’s not only tools and practices,” Ouellette says. “It’s building confidence and showing people that they already have these skills — it’s just a matter of tapping into them.”
Shanna Chasse, a financial advisor at Rise Private Wealth Management, in Bedford, was able to use those skills immediately.
“During the program, we learned about people maps and understanding personality types, as well as leading with empathy — which are both examples of learnings that I have found to be extra beneficial through these uncertain times,” she says of the skills that were particularly valuable during the quarantine period.
Just prior to the arrival of the coronavirus, and the wide-ranging ripple effects it had on every sector in the state, Chasse was afforded a preview of what it meant to lead through unexpected change.
“I had an off-site meeting in January where I presented about change management,” she says. “The (Change Management) session really flowed over into that off -site meeting, so the timing was perfect. I was able to implement it not only in myself but in a team setting.”
Chasse went into the experience hoping to learn more about leadership concepts, how to put those ideas into action and what it can mean to the people you manage.
“There’s a lot to the word ‘leadership,’” she says. “It can include a lot. We broke that down and learned about people’s different approaches and styles. I know what it’s like in my office, but I wanted to hear others’ opinions on what leadership means.”
For Chasse, it also meant developing her own philosophy: An authentic leadership that fosters an open and transparent culture. One who promotes personal growth and recognizes that great ideas and results come from all levels. An empathetic leader that respects the core values of those she leads and helps each individual progress in their role by observing personal behaviors and providing customized leadership.
“Each person needs that customized leadership,” she says. “Knowing people and allowing them to become experts in their roles builds harmony and trust in the workplace. You can’t provide each person with the same leadership. It has to be customized and tailored to each situation and each person you lead.”
The diversity of participants helped accomplish just that, according to Brent Rheinhardt, general manager of Boyce Highlands, a Concord-based manufacturing firm that specializes in finished and unfinished moldings. Classes include a cross-section of industry representatives from a wide range of sectors. The principles, however, were applicable across the board.
“There was a wide variety of people in the classroom from insurance, healthcare, communication and marketing, lawyers, real estate and development — it was a very diverse class and everybody in it was open to communicating,” Rheinhardt says. “No one was nervous about putting themselves in an awkward situation. They were all very trusting, which made it very productive.”
That diversity became one of the more valuable aspects of the training especially when everyday routines were interrupted in the early spring.
“The class teaches you a lot about different personalities,” Rheinhardt says. “Along with that, you learn to figure out what the triggers and typical responses are to a situation from each type of personality. This is helpful when training employees about the changes they need to make in their job in response to the crisis.”
It enabled Rheinhardt to lead employees through the “new normal.”
“It helped with everything from employees accepting the change quickly, to the ever-evolving procedures to combat the virus in our manufacturing facility,” he says. “We needed to implement the changes and have 100% acceptance to ensure the good health of all our employees.”
During the series of six-month sessions, Ouellette led role-playing scenarios that prompted participants to examine how they communicate in the workplace, and how those skills can be improved.
“I’m in manufacturing, but I was talking with a lawyer — two careers that are totally different,” Rheinhardt says. “But it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in when it comes to talking to people. You can still learn from each other.”
Rheinhardt says he struggled with a specific coaching technique taught during the training, but committed to the process. Though unfamiliar with the approach initially, he implemented it and says it has worked well on the manufacturing floor.
“It came up when we talked about ‘powerful conversations,’” he says. “It definitely wasn’t the type of coaching where you tell a person what to do. You ask questions and the person figures out what to do on their own. It’s different, and I struggled with it at first, but I worked on it and it’s been working out great. When you’re trying to implement change (using this approach), everything seems to go smoother.”
For Alex Anagnost, vice president at Anagnost Companies, the Emerging Leader Training program was the latest in a series of leadership programs he’s taken advantage of since graduating college — a “natural next step to further develop leadership skills.”
“It helped me understand my leadership style and how to implement what I learned in the seminars into the workplace,” Anagnost says of the combination of training, coaching, and practice utilized in the program. “I’ve further developed a leadership culture in the workplace and learned how to teach people to become leaders themselves.”
The defining moment for each participant varied. For Rheinhardt, one of the primary benefits was learning about his personal leadership style and communicating with different personality types; Anagnost saw value in learning to implement what he learned in his everyday interactions; Downey appreciated, in particular, the real-world experience Ouellette and his team brought to the sessions.
“It’s hard to pick just one MVP for this experience,” Downey says. “Indirectly, Sojourn Partners and the BIA have provided me with many new invaluable business connections. The program has taught me to ask the right questions, stimulated my critical thinking, and challenged me to formulate my own leader-ship philosophy.”
For Chasse, it came on the final day of classes, where the group focused on a session built around integration and implementation.
“It allowed us to really reflect on all the learnings throughout the program,” she says. “We were asked to review what we learned and how we would bring that to life through our personal philosophy. We went around the class reflecting on our own takeaways. None of them were the same, but they were pretty much wrapped around the same core pieces — transparency and trust. It was an amazing way to wrap everything up.”
As part of a room full of people enthusiastic about participation and eager to grow, it’s not an unusual sentiment.
“These are people who really, really want to have an impact,” Ouellette says. “We’re working with people who want to dig in, and digging in with them is completely rewarding for us. We get to meet different facilitators and coach people to help other people. We pinch ourselves every day because we get to do this work.”