In her 10 years as a Forum facilitator and 18 years as a management professor at Simmons College Graduate School of Management, Ann Lindsey has learned three keys to lead lively discussions: listen well, create a respectful environment and respond to participants’ ideas and requests.
“A successful group has a sense of trust and respect,” says Lindsey, head of Lindsey Leadership Consulting in Newton. “People feel safe opening up.”
Roberta Sydney joined her Forum in 1999. Nearly 14 years later, the longtime business owner continues to grow and learn from the monthly meetings.
“My Forum has helped me sort through thorny issues, like partnership breakdowns, and led me to do reality checks when they’re most needed,” says Sydney, president of Sydney Associates Inc., a real estate development and management firm in Brookline. “As an entrepreneur, one of the things you miss sorely is someone who’s outside of the business to bounce off a decision.”
After 14 years as a Forum participant, Gretchen Fox has come to view her group as an informal advisory board. The high trust level she has built with her peers—the same core group has stayed together for years—creates a comfortable dynamic where everyone shares challenges and receives supportive feedback.
“It’s an almost risk-free environment,” says Fox, founder and chief executive of Fox RPM Corp., a Boston-based firm that manages construction projects and relocations for commercial clients.
After 20 years of being in business, Danette Gossett felt she had a good business foundation. After all, she came from corporate America and had all the experience and knowledge needed to succeed in business. At times, she admits that as the sole owner of Gossett Marketing, it was difficult not having someone to discuss issues and challenges.
For years, Aviva Sapers has wanted to write a vision statement for her company. Thanks to her Forum group, she’s finally getting it done.
Everyone in her group is embarking on the same project of crafting a corporate vision. At each meeting, they share progress and get feedback.
“We all decided to work on visioning processes,” says Sapers, chief executive of Sapers & Wallack, an insurance, employee benefits and financial management firm in Newton. “It helps me focus on setting up our five-year plan.”
It is 8:00 a.m. on Friday, April 27th, as 600 people start arriving to take part in the Urban League of Broward County’s Grand Opening of The Community Empowerment Center. The 28,000 sq. ft. center, in the heart of Ft. Lauderdale, is impressive in its architectural design and reason for being. A cross-section of the community of all races, ethnicity and walks of life are present for this much anticipated opening, including people who have been served by the Urban League, politicians and business leaders from various companies such JM Family Enterprises. This is a project that began after several years of planning, but eighteen months prior to this opening, president and chief executive officer, Dr. Germaine Smith-Baugh, brought it to her CEO Forum group for discussion.
Business owners often avoid painful decisions or put off unpleasant tasks. Bonnie Gorbaty, along with the Forum groups that she facilitates, doesn’t let them.
Gorbaty’s goal is to help members confront and conquer difficult challenges as a way to grow productive, profitable businesses. That requires everyone to engage fully in the discussion and pose tough questions.
In one of her first Forum meetings in 2006, Dianne Savastano shared her struggles writing content for her new firm’s website.
“What the [heck] makes you think you can write for a website?,” one of her peers asked.
Savastano, founder and president of Healthassist in Manchester-by-the-Sea, a firm that advises consumers on navigating the healthcare system, admitted that writing wasn’t her strong suit. Her peer then suggested that Savastano hire a professional writer—and gave her three top candidates.
Kathy McDonough joined The Commonwealth Institute five years ago to participate in a Forum and benefit from peer feedback and support. But when her facilitator introduced an exercise to write a “Focus Report,” McDonough grumbled.
“I thought, ‘I won’t use this. It doesn’t apply to me,’” recalls McDonough, president and chief executive of Community Health Network Inc., a staffing firm in Holliston that provides nurses and physical therapists for homecare and hospice agencies.
Nevertheless, McDonough completed the exercise of identifying the most crucial measures that impact her business. And she’s thrilled with the results.