How to Develop Leadership Throughout Your Company – Bo Balcavage

How do you view leadership inside your company? Is it top down, or are you investing in the leadership at all levels of your company? How can you create better leaders within your company, and what does that look like?  We’ll tackle these questions and more with Bo Balcavage of Crestcom, a leadership training company.

Rich: My next guest grew up in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1983. He attended the U.S. Military Academy and graduated in ’89. He served on deployments and assignments in Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany, Jordan, The Sinai and Kosovo. He retired in 2017 and began post army life in Kennebunkport, Maine with his wife, Kim. Together they established Crestcom Leadership Development Company, helping Maine business leaders realize their full potential at any stage of their career.

On top of that, he coaches U.S. Army brigades on planned procedures and techniques at Fort Polk, Louisiana, while also being active in nonprofits that include Veterans Victory Alliance, Boots to Roots, ESGR, and 100 Men Who Care. Today we’re going to be talking leadership with Bo Balcavage. Bo, welcome to the podcast.

Bo: Hey, good afternoon. It’s good to see you there, Rich. Let’s get busy.

Rich: All right, let’s do this. So right off the bat, I’m just curious, do you feel that your military background has helped you in your ability to lead and develop leaders?

Bo: Absolutely. I think one of the things that is probably a no brainer, and it is an inherent advantage that the military has is, we’re all about institutionalized leadership. So at every level, whether you’re an officer, an enlisted person, or Sergeant going up through the ranks, there are program gates for you to educate yourself, get re-educated, and then out that education into practice. Coincidentally, a lot of that is what drew me to Crestcom, because their model is so much similar.

Rich: Well tell me a little bit more about Crestcom and the type of leadership development that you’re currently involved in.

Bo: Sure. Yeah, Crestcom is a leadership training company that began about 33 years ago, and we specialize in developing managers into better leaders. And our method is a little different. We focus on the gamut of leadership. So whether it’s supervisors, managers, VPs, or directors and CEOs, I’ve had all levels in our class. And one question that I often get asked is, “How can you provide something to such a wide array or such a span of leadership?” And the answer is really that each level of leadership tends to see their challenges or the lessons that they receive in our class, through the lens at which they serve. They see how to use the tools that we give them relative to whatever position they’re in at that time. So while a CEO at a place like Volk Packaging might take one tool and apply it across his directors, I’ve seen a manager at Capozza Flooring take that same tool and apply it down to their supervisors and installers.

Rich: Interesting. You know, it’s funny because whenever I think of leadership, I’m always thinking of that top person in the company. But obviously there’s leadership at every single level throughout. You just mentioned that with your history in the military, and obviously you’re talking about that working with some of the companies do you. Do you approach those different levels with different lessons? Or is it more that when the people come, they take away things based on where they are in their company now? Or is it a little bit of both?

Bo: I would say the answer is B. So to give you an idea of how our model works, I present two lessons a month in one setting. So two, two-hour sessions, usually the second or third Thursday of the month. Right now we do that at the Portland DoubleTree hotel. And if you were to walk into the conference room when we’re in there and look around, you’d see people from about 10 different companies around the area at places like Volk Packaging, Nikel Precision Group, Lucas Tree, LandryFrench, Aero Heating & Vac, RJ Grondin, Zachau Construction, those types of companies. And you’d see low, mid, and higher-level leadership from each of them. When you look at how they received those lessons, just like I mentioned before.

So for example, conflict management is a lesson that I taught this past Thursday. And as we presented that and as I looked at the action plans our folks developed in class, they were very much representative of where they stood right now. As a matter of fact, I was working with a guy last night on his particular conflict challenge that he wanted to take on, and we offered them a kind of a five-step model to prepare to deal with that conflict and state the facts, share or unpack the issue, express your collective expectations, come to an agreement, follow up. Well, those five steps would apply to that floor supervisor, mid-level manager, or director or CEO. I mean, they’d all use those same steps. Of course, who they’re dealing with, which individual, and what type of conflict would vary. But yeah, they use those tools relative to where they sit and what their challenges are. But the leadership tools are fairly consistent.

Rich: Awesome. All right. So Bo, when you’re talking about leadership, I think a lot of business owners think they’re leaders because they started the company, so they must be leaders. But how do you define ‘leadership’ and what are the characteristics you look for in a leader?

Bo: Yeah. So in terms of defining leadership, I think leadership is just pretty simple. It’s how do we get people to do things that they might not otherwise do. You know, some people call that the art of persuasion. And I often get asked, “Hey, are leaders born or leaders made?” And I would say ‘yes’, both. And we all have some inherent leadership capability. My job as a coach is to take people from wherever their current capability is to a higher capability. And that’s why we provide tools and coaching for them to do that.

Rich: So, you and I have had some conversations offline, and I mentioned that I’ve been running this business for nearly 25, years and only in the last year to two years have I really been interested in leadership as a concept or as a topic. How do we know if we’re ready for leadership training or that our company might be ready for some sort of leadership training? Is there something that happens, or do you say that as soon as you start your business, you should be thinking about leadership?

Bo: Well, I’d love to say exactly what you said there. As soon as we start our business, we ought to be thinking about it. But the reality is, if you’re starting a business, you’re probably most concerned about your bottom line. And hopefully as your raise up and come up for some air, then you start thinking about, hey, what’s next, what’s the future?

I think you and I could both agree, probably the least expensive and most rewarding way to ensure the future of your company is develop the talent that you already have within. And in this time where talent is so hard to come by, you know, that sort of thing makes plenty of sense. So yeah, I think I answered your questions there in what is leadership and how do you develop it. And so, how do you know if what we do is good for you or not, I think was the other question.

Rich: Well, actually… okay. I wanted to know, when people hire you, what kind of outcome are they looking for? Like, what is it that was that itch that they’re trying to scratch when they hire Crestcom?

Bo: Yeah. So I ask that same question. I’ll start out by asking you what’s your ideal leadership development program look like? What are the challenges that you have with the managers, leaders, supervisors, directors, whatever on your team right now, and you know, why don’t you tell me about a couple of those? And after they do that what I’ll do is offer them a story of how as supervisor over at Aero had those same challenges and was able to apply some of the lessons they learned from this course, and heck, you can call their CEO and I’ll give you this reference and they’ll tell you how to turn it around.

But you know, just my word of mouth probably shouldn’t be good enough for anybody, any prudent businessman. And so that’s why we offer them a chance to test drive what we do. And so when somebody says, “Well, how do I know?” And I say, “You probably don’t. Why don’t you take an opportunity I’ll present to you. And that is, I can come to your company at the time and place of your choosing. We can give you about a two hour and 15-minute workshop that will serve to be look into what does Crestcom Leadership Development look like? And at the end of that two hours and 15 minutes, I hand out a bunch of surveys to your folks. Hopefully those folks are the folks you need to help make a decision, and those who you think are prospective candidates for this type of program.” After they fill them out and answer whether or not they thought the program was good for them or who else might benefit from this, we’ll take a look at those together. And if they indicate that they’re not interested in growing, that’s great. I’ll save some money and we’ll say goodbye, and maybe I’ll catch you on the streets sometime. But more likely I think what you’ll see is that there’s a need and a desire from a lot of people to grow and get better. We generally don’t want to get fixed, we want to get grown. And so people tend to see that in our workshop.

Rich: All right. Now you and I are in similar, although different businesses, in the fact that we’re B2B, we’re working with companies to help them become better. And I’m just afraid that a lot of people might look at leadership development or training the way they look at marketing in that it’s an expense, not an investment. What would you say the ROI of leadership might be?

Bo: Yeah, that’s a great question. I’m very concerned about what that ROI is. So I told you that how we present our program. I deliver two lessons once a month, but that’s not the most important thing that we do. The most important thing that happens at Crestcom Leadership Development is that your participants, if your company was going through it, Rich. After they get done with those two lessons in class, they’re entering into an app on their phone with the best idea they took away from each of those lessons was. After they go back to their company or go back home at the end of the week, they’re going to write down an action plan for that particular lesson. Now that’s nothing novel and you know, the road to hell is probably paved with a whole lot of unfulfilled action plans. The forcing function is really what makes a difference. And that’s what I’d say our differentiator.

So three weeks after that class, I’m going to sit down with your participants, their managers, and yourself if you’re the CEO, and those participants are going to talk about what their best idea was from that lesson, what steps with who and what they took from that action plan they developed, and then what the return on investment – both quantitatively and qualitatively. And those are hard things sometimes for folks to answer. Our first couple of action plans that they talk about are a little bit clumsier and I’m a little heavier on coaching, but they get it pretty quick. And by about meeting two or three, they’ve figured out what they’ve got to do.

We call those meetings, accountability meetings. Because the participants are accountable to themselves, their manager, and CEO, who’s laying out that cash to pay for the program. And it’s really pretty neat because what you see happening in the accountability meetings is not all that much talking from me, but some great discussion, not just from the participant, but from their manager and their CEO. And what I’ve found over time is the manager and CEO take the opportunity to do some coaching and mentorship on their own that they probably would like to do, but we get too busy doing it. And so that accountability meeting serves as a forcing function for all of us to have a discussion about the ROI that’s being seen by that participant taking a lesson, applying the tool from that lesson, and doing something with it that provides a quantitative result for that company.

Rich: Awesome. All right. Are there different styles of leadership? And how do you discover if there are different styles, which leadership style best suits you?

Bo: Yeah. So, it sounds like you just got done looking at our September lesson. Probably one of the most popular lessons of the year, because people are like, whoa, I got a leadership style. And they figure out not only what theirs is, but what are the styles of the people around us. And what are the ways in which if your one particular leadership style dealing with another, you should consider your strengths and weaknesses and their strengths and weaknesses, and modify your behavior accordingly.

I think we all recognize that the idea that ‘I treat everybody’ equal is out outmoded. We’re all different. And most importantly, we think differently. And so we want to take advantage of all those different types of thinking. And if we can understand the strengths and weaknesses of different personality styles, we can leverage them and build a diverse thought team. We throw the terms ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ around a whole lot. I think the most important aspect of diversity is probably diversity of thought. We can look a whole bunch of different colors or different genders, but what we really need is people who will challenge the assumptions and keep us from going on at [inaudible].

Rich: All right. Now, it’s interesting. You bring up DEI – diversity, equity and inclusion – because it’s definitely a phrase that was not used very often even five years ago, but now we see it all over corporations and companies. And it makes me wonder, have you seen changes to what’s considered to be leadership or leadership training in the last few years? Has there been an evolution since you’ve been focused on leadership that you’ve noticed, or is leadership more of an evergreen thing that is always the same and just the people change?

Bo: Yeah. So I would say the principles of leadership are pretty consistent. We tend to come up with new labels to put on things. You know, you talked about marketing before. New labels sell better than some old labels sometimes. But if you think about it, what is the concept that diversity inclusion all about? It’s about respect for others. Not just who they are, what they look like, but what’s up here, what’s in their mind. And how do we leverage that and how do we treat them with the most respect? So that would provide an environment where our people can work to their max capability. And I think every CEO around you wants to do it.

Rich: I would hope so. All right. So, this podcast is usually geared towards owners. So what can owners do to support the leadership growth of the people underneath them? It’s one thing to say, “I want to become a better leader as the president of flyte”, but what kind of support can I offer everybody else on my team who might be interested in improving their own leadership skills?

Bo: Yeah. So, as you know, I spent a little more than 30 years in the military and so my civilian background and familiarity with the performance review isn’t quite what yours is. But I get the concept. Once a year we’re going to meet with those people on our team and we’re going to tell them how they did. I think a lot of us have come to realize that’s probably not a great technique. And so if I’m a CEO, I’m an owner who wants to develop the people on my team rather than having this episodic interests in how they performed and where they’re interested in going. Maybe we ought to do that a little bit more often and think about terms like ‘coaching’ and ‘mentoring’.

So as I talk to people, and actually in January where that lesson is, be the coach they , that’s one of the points is coaching an episodic thing. It ought to be one of those things that we don’t just play on the next quarter but maybe the next five quarters and lay those on our calendar and lock ourselves into that type of thinking. If we want to build the people on our team, and really these days, if we want to keep the people on our team who offer a lot of value to the organization, then we got to start by asking what are your needs? Where do you want to go? And how can I help you get there consistent with the way we run the company?

Rich: You bring up an interesting concept in those year-end reviews the evaluations. I’ve just finished mine for my team. And one of the things that I’m always wondering is, how can an owner or a leader actually get evaluations on him or herself, especially from the people who may work underneath them. Have you found any good ways to kind of get honest feedback about what, how you’re performing as a leader?

Bo: Yeah. You know, one of the best pieces of feedback I’ve seen is a 360 review. And you know, you say ‘360 review’ and all of a sudden people might take a step back and go, “Oh, this is expensive” and blah, blah, blah. And, you know, frankly, we offer a very non-expensive one here at Crestcom. But heck, you could do a 360 review without any company if you thought about it. You could ask people, you could fill out 10 questions, 10 basic leadership principles, maybe five, maybe seven leadership principles that you would like to be known for doing well. Give them a one through five scale, ask them to rate you on it. Don’t put their name on that piece of paper and put them in a blank envelope and turn them in on a certain day, and you’ll get some feedback. Obviously, people will be concerned about is he going to know who gave these out. But you know, you build up the credibility to do something like that over time. Not like that.

Rich: All right. When it comes to this leadership training, is there a finish line? Is there a point when you figured you’ve done enough, or is this kind of a lifelong journey towards becoming a better and better leader?

Bo: You know, I think the best leaders never stopped growing. I’ve sat in countless helicopters with people who had amazing reputations for their leadership under fire, their empathy, their capacity to grow people. And those folks, if they weren’t directing a fight on the ground, usually you’d find them with a book. They were always continuing to improve themselves. And so, I would say, you know, the best leaders never get to the finish line. They’re always aspiring to get better and recognizing that there’s another thing about themselves they’d like to fix.

Rich: If you’re out there, you’re working with a lot of businesses. What do you think the biggest mistakes that businesses here in Maine are making when it comes to leadership or leadership training issues?

Bo: I think one of the big mistakes is thinking, “You know, that’s a great idea. I’d love to do that, but I don’t have time just yet.” If you think about it, when’s a better time than right now or yesterday to start training the folks on your team. I often hear people ask, you know, I’m at a point where I’ve got to pick whoever’s going to succeed so and so in this job, and I’m just not comfortable with Bob. Don’t put yourself in that position. Instead of having a binary choice, develop a bunch of leaders at different tiers so that you aren’t faced with single or binary choices. Again, who’s going to know your company and the challenges within your company better than people in your company. So if you spend the time now developing those people for the future, it provides your company better future ops.

Rich: That’s really great advice. Bo, everybody who comes on the show, we ask them this question, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. What one thing would you change if you could to improve the business ecosystem here in Maine?

Bo: So, I moved to three different homes in three years, looking for the place I was eventually going to buy land, build. One of those homes belonged to a lawyer and Freeport, and he had a bunch of shelves full of books, all kinds of books. And so, as my business was a little slower at that time and I was trying to educate myself, I pulled a book out from the shelf. And it was a travel book from 1971. And then 1971 travel book talked about how hard it was to get people to fill jobs in Maine. Huh? I guess that problem has been around for a while. And it went on to talk about how for 250 years, it’s been hard to fill jobs in Maine. So I guess, and this is easy for me to say, we just got to find more non-conventional means of putting the right people into the right jobs.

And I don’t know what all those are. I know that there’s plenty of folks immigrating to this country and immigrating to Maine. Gosh, darn it. Sometimes I just think, Hey well, instead of fighting the system, let’s bring companies to where they’re coming in and go, “Hey everybody that was to go work at Rich Brooks’ company, come in here.” And I know it’s more complicated than that, but we’ve got to come up with some other solutions then hoping they show up.

Rich: Awesome. Bo this has been really helpful. Where can we send people who want to learn more about you and learn more about working with Crestcom?

Bo: So the simplest answer I can give you Rich, is have them Google ‘Crestcom Maine’ or ‘leadership Maine’ and they’ll find me right there. When they get to Crestcom they’ll be able to enter some information about where they’re interested in working and sign up for a chance to have a conversation and see if what we offer is good for them.

Rich: And Bo, are you on LinkedIn yourself?

Bo: I am.

Rich: All right. And so we’ll have a link to that in show notes as well. Bo, I appreciate it. I know it was a lot of work to get us on the call together at the same time, but it came out great. And I really appreciate your time and expertise.

Bo: Yeah. Thank you very much. And Merry Christmas to you, Rich.

Rich: Right back at ya.