My Last Lecture

Three years ago I announced that I would be retiring from Vistage in December 2018. Those three years have gone by way too fast. This month I will be saying goodbye to three Vistage groups that I have become very attached to over the course of the past sixteen years.

I have great memories of my time as a Vistage Chair and made hundreds of friends. Things I’ll remember most include… the stressful discomfort prior to each meeting not ever being sure what the outcome of that particular gathering was going to be; and the annual group retreats that took us up to the Georgia Mountains for several days to write poetry, share TED Talks, discuss Exit Strategies, and share Bucket Lists.

Over a period of sixteen years, I have Chaired seven different groups, five of which I started, two I transitioned from other Chairs. By my best estimates, I have Chaired almost 700 meetings, participated in over 3000 executive coaching (1-2-1) sessions, and worked with over 200 members.

There have been a number of important learnings from this vast experience:

1. “I am only as good as the ground I stand on.”

If that ground was solid, I could be very effective in my leadership role on that particular day. If that ground was soft or weak, I was less than effective. Solid ground was determined by my physical, mental, and emotional well-being. I have worked very hard to fortify each of those over the past sixteen years.

I believe this is true for all leaders as well.

2. “Marketing is like shaving… do it every day or you will look like a bum.”

This quote came from an early mentor of mine, Vistage Chair Gary Anderson. He suggested that my success as a Chair would depend, in part, on my ability to market my practice each and every day. I don’t think this comes naturally to many small business owners including myself. But I have come to believe that consistent marketing efforts result in consistent positive outcomes.

I believe this is true in small business as well.

3. “Members will never care as much about their group as I do.”

I am constantly thinking of my members and their groups. How are they doing? How can I help them? Where are they at risk? They, on the other hand, spend just one day a month in those groups. The remainder of their time is spent running their companies, enjoying time with their families, and living a life. They will never care as much about me or their groups as I do. That’s been a tough pill to swallow for me for all of these years.

I believe the same dynamic is true for small business owners and their employees.

4. “Trust the Group.”

There have been quite a few times that I have gotten stuck on a decision relating to one of my Vistage groups. It may have been a decision about a membership, an operational issue, or a leadership challenge. I always found that when I brought the issue to the group, the decision got made with an optimal outcome. I didn’t always have to make all the tough decisions. I came to trust the power of the group.

I believe this is true in small business as well.

5. “Fail Fast… this is a laboratory.”

Once I became comfortable with the Vistage group format I began to experiment. I would introduce new activities into the monthly meetings. I would try out different icebreakers, different issue processing styles, and different planning exercises. Some of these experiments worked beautifully. Some were total disasters. My members reminded me of these both frequently. The key, I think, was my willingness to fail and fail fast. To think of my group meetings as a laboratory for innovation in human and group behavior.

I believe every small business has this same opportunity.

What’s next for me?

I am calling it my “Third Act”.

I look forward to staying active in Vistage as a speaker, a chair mentor, and as a champion and advocate.

I am also looking forward to growing the Small Business Matters brand as a speaker, meeting facilitator, trainer, and author. You will hear more about each of these in the months to come.

I had a meeting several months ago with a colleague, about my age, and he said something to me that has had a significant impact. He said, “I have 10 good summers left in me.” That conversation led me to think in a similar fashion. I, too, have 10 good summers left in me and I look forward to spending those summers traveling, playing tennis, and spending time with family. Maybe even grandchildren…

In closing, I am most grateful for the following. That Vistage (TEC at the time) took a chance on me as a Chair sixteen years ago without any evidence that I could do this work. I am most grateful for the mentors that have invested time in my growth as a Chair. Too many to name but they know who they are. I am also very thankful to have had the love and support of my family all this time. Never once did they doubt me…that I know of :-). 

And lastly, I want to thank each of my members. I am the luckiest guy on the planet. You opened up your businesses, your lives, and your hearts to me and I will be eternally thankful for that.

Class adjourned.