Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Keys to Improving Employee Relationships and Productivity

Did you know that 75 percent of employees who have a best friend at work say they’re able to take on anything, compared to 58 percent of those who don’t? And according to Harvard Business, “People who have a ‘best friend at work’ are more likely to be happier, healthier, and seven times more likely to be engaged in their jobs.”*

Lifelong friendships are often developed within a confidential peer roundtable setting, and it’s no wonder why. When certain principles of trust and candor are followed, and experiences are shared as part of a “no advice” protocol, nothing is off limits. It’s not uncommon to hear, “I’m closer to this group than I am my best friends.”

For Mo Fathelbab, founder of Forum Resources Network, this news was unsettling.

“So, initially, that really warmed my heart,” he told the VACEOs Quarterly Luncheon audience on January 24. “But then it started bothering me, because the reason we have these roundtables is not so that we would have better relationships than we have in the rest of your life. It’s so that the roundtables can help you be a better person in the rest of your life.”

Fathelbab is often called in to train and coach VACEOs Roundtable members on how to get the most out of their roundtable experience. In fact, his book Forum: The Secret Advantage of Successful Leaders is required reading for all new members.

“Having friends at work has profound impact on productivity, happiness and company culture,” says Fathelbab. At the luncheon event, Mo introduced his new book, The Friendship Advantage: 7 Keys to Building Relationships that Transform Corporate Culture and Drive Productivity. The content features guiding principles to help you be a better person and leader, and viable ways to help you strengthen employee bonds in your organization.


For business owners, The Friendship Advantage promises to help them strengthen the bonds that improve employee productivity, happiness and well-being, as well as boost bottom lines through higher retention rates and a richer company culture.

But it’s not easy work being vulnerable and free of judgment, as we learned during Mo’s highly interactive presentation. After one exercise, attendees declared it felt “cathartic” and “fulfilling” to open themselves up so completely to an unknown person at their table. They felt “human” and “real.”

Now, imagine the possibilities.

Seven Key Principles to Building Relationships*

  1. Judgment Free
  2. Mischievous Fun
  3. Vulnerability
  4. Reliability
  5. Shared Purpose and Values
  6. Sharing and Generosity
  7. Kind Truth 

*Source: Mo Fathelbab Presentation, “The Friendship Advantage;” January 24, 2019; VACEOs Quarterly Luncheon.


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Posted by Staff at 12:57 pm
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Monday, August 27, 2018

Better Work-Life Integration: Myth or Attainable Goal?

George Forsythe in Costa Rica

George Forsythe finds balance by doing volunteer work in Costa Rica with his family and a handful of clients and friends.

Business owners, whether they run small or large organizations, are notorious for working long hours. But should we consider that that’s simply the price one pays for being an entrepreneur? Or should we diligently seek work-life harmony? Is there real value in that pursuit?

“Undeniably so,” says Danessa Knaupp, Principal, Avenue 8. “Leaders who feel successful and well balanced at home and at work are typically calmer in the face of stress and able to relate to others who are feeling stretched by their responsibilities. That sense of empathy is often a key differentiator between a good leader and a great one.”

Knaupp’s experience as an executive coach has also taught her that a better balanced CEO is a more productive leader. “When CEOs are able to better balance their time between rest, work and play, they often see leaps in productivity at work, stronger relationships at home, and an overall deeper ability to tolerate the daily ups and downs leadership delivers,” she explains. 


After finding himself at a balance breaking point years ago, George Forsythe, Managing Partner with WellsColeman, finally found a way to successfully integrate his work with his home life.

“While I was rising up on my way to becoming a managing partner, everything was timed,” explains Forsythe. “I never said no, and I struggled with how much I could fit into an already-packed day. You do all that you can, and at the end of the day, there’s a breaking point, right? There are only so many hours in a day for your health and relationships.”

He began to take regular trips to a remote cabin with his wife to decompress. “My wife says that having that place saved my life, in the sense that the path I was on wasn’t healthy and sustainable,” Forsythe says. 

Forsythe actively pursued a better version of himself. He invested in research and professional coaches, and attended leadership seminars, workshops and webinars. But it was a book by Stewart Friedman that resonated with him the most. 

“I found that Total Leadership by Stewart Friedman did the best job of explaining Work/Life Integration and how it will make you a better leader,” says Forsythe. VACEOs Members participated in a day-long workshop with Wharton professor and bestselling author Friedman in 2017, thanks to Forsythe’s recommendation.

The  concept of a “four-way win” – the perfect integration of work, home, community and self –especially resonated with Forsythe. “The big idea is that it’s possible to create value for the different parts – for work, home, community and your private self, the domain of mind, body and spirit – in ways that you probably didn’t think about before,” according to Friedman. “It doesn’t have to be a tradeoff.  Most people operate in a world of thinking about sacrifice as a necessity – that you have to give up something in one part of your life in order to achieve success in another part.”

“The trip was amazing! It was the hardest work I’ve ever done. At one point, I estimated that I personally hoisted over 1,000 five-gallon buckets of rock and sand into the mixer.” – George Forsythe

It’s rare to consistently succeed on all fronts, Forsythe admits. But we recently caught up with him when he was working hard on the community side – just hours before he headed to Costa Rica with his family and a handful of clients and friends for eight days of volunteer work through the Courts for Kids organization. Their goal: build a multi-purpose sports court for a small village of roughly 300 people in a town about four hours north of San José.

“The trip was amazing! It was the hardest work I’ve ever done. At one point, I estimated that I personally hoisted over 1,000 five-gallon buckets of rock and sand into the mixer. We immersed ourselves among the people in the village. We’re hopeful that our sons, Sean (14) and Patrick (12), can learn from those who don’t have so many material belongings and focus on what’s truly important in life.”

Some highlights of the trip? Long discussions with the villagers (who spoke no English) and, of course, playing on the courts with them after the work was completed. 

“I got to dust off my high school Spanish, and by the end of the week, I was having hour-long conversations with locals,” says Forsythe. “Our range of topics included food, fishing, finance and politics. I’ll remember this trip forever.” 

How did this CEO go from never saying no to a huge, four-way win?


Forsythe began his journey by looking inward and then making a plan.

“I approached looking at Work-Life Integration the same as running an organization,” he explains. “It starts with a solid mission, vision and values and is followed up with some method of accountability to achieve the best results.” He also finds real value in a meditation and yoga practice. 

Danessa Knaupp agrees that reflection and accountability are great tools. “I recommend that all leaders adopt a pause practice and reflect regularly, and I also recommend that leaders have a neutral accountability partner – whether that is a coach or trusted peer – to help them consider their path and activities as an observer.”

Knaupp reports that the pause practice can be as formal as meditation (she loves Headspace and Deepak Chopra’s meditation app) or as informal as sitting quietly on a deck at the end of a long day for five minutes while focusing on being present. Reflection can also take the form of journaling or dictating notes into your phone.

“Reflection helps leaders focus on what really matters by allowing them to observe themselves rather than simply react,” says Knaupp. 

What methods or tools have you found to help you achieve a better work- life balance? Leave a  comment. We’d love to know!

Courts for Kids

After eight days of hard work, volunteers and members of the community enjoy the court.


Posted by Staff at 1:37 pm
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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Dear CEO: Your Decision-Making Process Is Holding You Back

Danessa Knaup

The average person makes more than 35,000 decisions in a typical day. “We are decision-making machines,” says Executive Coach Danessa Knaupp. “We’re making thousands of decisions a day – all the time – so naturally we develop a shorthand.” But, Knaupp cautioned during a recent Knowledge Network luncheon, that shorthand could be holding us back.

“People who rise to positions of leadership are widely regarded as good decision-makers,“ she explained. “You get rewarded by the small and large decisions you make, over and over again. But the number-one reason leaders fail is they stick to a process that has delivered them up to a point but cannot deliver them further.”

Her advice?

  • Change your perspective (realize the potential pitfalls of your shorthand)
  • Realize the information you’re taking in is an assertion or opinion, NOT a fact
  • Broaden your perspective

Check Your Perspective. It’s Probably Skewed

Knaupp teaches that all decisions we make flow up a Ladder of Inference. First, we select or gather data. The trouble is, our previous experiences affect how we perceive that information. For example, one CEO might look at an image and see a random putting green in the middle of a pond; another, one of the most iconic holes on the PGA tour. It’s all about perspective.

Ladder of Inference

“We have a set of experiences – all of us – where we sit in a space with a huge pool of data and we select that data using our distinctions,” says Knaupp. “Then we make assumptions about that data. We draw conclusions. Those conclusions form beliefs.” From there, we make decisions. And this is where our shorthand can get us into trouble. Shorthand is very powerful, but it can handicap us. Once we’ve formed a set of beliefs, we’re continually processing data selectively based on those beliefs.

Two Important Things to Know About the Ladder of Inference

  1. Realize that the data before you is a tiny faction of the actual information available to you to make a decision.
  2. Realize that what you believe is influencing any action you take.

So the next time you gather data on the flow up the Ladder of Inference, ask yourself, “Is this a fact, an assertion or an opinion?”

Great Leaders Distinguish Between Facts, Assertions and Opinions*

  • Fact: Something demonstrated to exist or known to have existed; an objective state that can be measured.
  • Assertion: Something declared or stated positively that cannot be objectively proven.
  • Opinion: A belief or conclusion held with confidence but not substantiated.


“The VACEOs roundtable experience offers leaders an opportunity to gather a broad set of perspectives on the challenges they face. Those confidential conversations allow each to broaden his or her view, noticing opportunities in a different way. By expanding perspective, leaders expand their potential solution sets in a way that is nearly impossible to do alone.”- Danessa Knaupp, Founder and CEO, Avenue 8 Advisors.

Knaupp says that peer groups like the Council can be a useful tool for broadening our perspective. “The VACEOs roundtable experience offers leaders an opportunity to gather a broad set of perspectives on the challenges they face. Those confidential conversations allow each to broaden his or her view, noticing opportunities in a different way. By expanding perspective, leaders expand their potential solution sets in a way that is nearly impossible to do alone.”

Danessa Knaupp

Summing It Up: How to Shift Your Perspective:

  1. Come down from your ladder.
  2. Explore facts vs. assertions.
  3. Seek ways to broaden your perspective.

*Source: “Shifting Your Leadership Perspective” VACEOs Knowledge Network presentation by Danessa Knaupp, Founder and CEO, Executive Coach, Avenue 8 Advisors.

Posted by Staff at 3:53 pm
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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Work-Life Balance for CEOs

Council member George Forsythe called me last fall. He told me that like most CEOs, he has struggled with work-life balance, trying to fit it everything in, and reacting to everyone else’s needs. He told me how he had found Stew Friedman’s Total Leadership and he started changing his life. George shared that he now enjoys better health, better relationships with family and co-workers, and increased community involvement. George said, “I feel much more in control of how I choose to spend my time.”

I happen to know 200 more CEOs who face the same challenges! I got off the phone with George and called Stew. I learned that he did not develop his work in some ivory tower, but in the trenches at Ford Motor Company. Stew now teaches Total Leadership to business students at the Wharton School, where his course is perennially ranked a favorite. And, he takes his life changing work to major corporations all over the globe.

We convinced Stew to offer a one-day workshop for us in Richmond on October 13. We are opening up this workshop to area CEOs and their executive teams. I hope that you will take the time to change your life for the better. You can learn more and sign up here.

Posted by Scot McRoberts at 5:40 pm
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Monday, June 19, 2017

Social Media Expert Corey Perlman Shares Strategies

VACEOs members have a thirst for knowledge. They relish Council events that expose them to best-selling authors and wholeheartedly dive into conversations with national thought leaders. They hunger for ways to streamline their operations, engage their employees and market their businesses.

On May 25, members got a chance to hear from Corey Perlman – consultant, nationally recognized social media expert and author of Social Media Overload! His presentation – “Simple Social Media Strategies for Overwhelmed and Time-Deprived Businesses” – could not have been more relevant for his audience.

Perlman challenged us to prioritize our activity on social media platforms – to “buckle down where buyers are” and not be tempted by platforms that don’t make sense for our business. He advised us to create a team or bring in an agency to help with social media instead of trying to do everything ourselves. He also introduced us to a social media sales funnel to guide us through ALL the reasons to participate in social media (it’s NOT all about generating leads), and encouraged us to think outside the box when it comes to content and to be patient for results.

We won’t share everything we learned, but here are five actionable items every CEO of a small or medium-sized business can use to their advantage.

Social media workshop highlights

Posted by Virginia Council of CEOs on Thursday, May 25, 2017


Google your business and yourself. What platforms are you on? Don’t forget to check out reviewer sites and personal/company/employee LinkedIn accounts. How’s your brand looking?

Do you really need to be on Twitter? Maybe not. Not sure where which platforms you should be on? Google the demographics of each and ask your customers. Double down on a few instead of spreading yourself too thin.

When was the last time you updated your website? Was it more than three years ago? If so, it’s time to update to current standards. And while you’re at it, update all of your LinkedIn accounts since the design has changed.

Every day. 
To LinkedIn.
Post only content that has value.

Challenge your social media team to get on the Facebook Live bandwagon. “You’ll see more activity and engagement on a Live video than you will on any other post you do on Facebook, so I encourage your watchers here to think about how they can go live,” said Perlman.


Corey Perlman’s latest book is a quick and easy read, packed with actionable items that will give you a firm grasp of the strategies that will work best for your business.

Corey Perlman

About Corey Perlman
Corey Perlman is an entrepreneur, author and nationally recognized digital marketing expert. He is also the owner of eBoot Camp, Inc. – a team of highly skilled digital marketing specialists who manage social media accounts for more than 40 companies. His latest book, Social Media Overload!, is an bestseller in every major business category. Learn more about Corey Perlman.

Posted by Staff at 4:20 pm
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