Chapter Corner

IEC's Emerging Leaders Initiative

Posted in: Features, March 2014

emerging-leaders.pngA recently launched initiative by IEC, called Emerging Leaders, is already reaping benefits. At the national level, the program is informal, consisting of a number of courses and programs being offered by IEC at conventions and other conferences. However, the program is already being formalized in at least two IEC chapters: IEC Rocky Mountain and IEC Atlanta.

“One thing IEC realizes is that we need to prepare the next generation of leaders, not only within IEC, but also within our member companies to help these people take the step to becoming the next generation of leaders,” said Thayer Long, Executive Vice President and CEO of IEC National. “We need to adapt and help prepare the next generation of leaders as they advance in their careers.”

After having offered a few Emerging Leader courses to interested participants over the last year or so, IEC hosted an Emerging Leaders Happy Hour at the 56th Annual IEC National Convention & Electric Expo in Portland, Oregon.

“It was a huge success,” said Long. “We were hoping for about 20 people, but we were pleasantly surprised that about 50 showed up.” IEC plans to continue its efforts by offering more seminars, classes, and other educational programs for emerging leaders in the future.

Rocky Mountain Leaders

One of the chapters that has already taken steps to formalize Emerging Leaders is the Denver, Colorado-based Independent Electrical Contractors – Rocky Mountain (IECRM).

“A lot of people in leadership positions in our organization around the country understand the need to prepare younger members to eventually take over the positions of leadership,” said Spenser Villwock, MNM, LEED-AP, CEO of the chapter. “However, there has been some difficulty in engaging these younger people to really be able to see the value of gaining more experience and viewing it as a conduit to moving into positions of leadership.”

EmergingLeaders33.JPGThe Emerging Leaders Program at IECRM helps the chapter’s member companies identify the people who are mid-career and are on a trajectory in their careers to become senior leaders within their respective companies and within the industry in general. The companies include electrical contractors, as well as manufacturers and distributors, ensuring a good cross-section of the industry.

“One reason we started the program in our chapter is that we see the need to be able to engage our younger talent and provide them with relevant resources, programs, and tools to help make our association the best it can be, as well as for our member companies to be the best they can be,” said Villwock.

Participation in the chapter’s program is limited to 25 people. They are hand- selected by current leaders who identify the people in their organizations as the ones they would like to have replace them in five, 10, or 15 years. “In terms of cost, since it is one of our member services, we operate it as a break-even proposition,” said Villwock. In most cases, the member companies cover the cost of the program for the people they send.

“We are in the middle of our second year, and, fortunately, we haven’t had to turn anyone away yet,” he said. “Our first year, we had 24 people in the program. This year, we have 22. However, as we continue to move forward, we anticipate that it will become a highly competitive program, and, at some point, we may need to begin to turn people away.”

As a way to select people, the chapter has an application process, in which applicants are asked about their backgrounds, what their motives are, and what they want to gain. “We also ask for information from the sponsors – the senior leaders who are nominating these people,” continued Villwock. “What is it about this person that makes them a rising star?” As the program gains momentum, and as the chapter does need to start turning people away, it will probably create a weighting tool in the application process to determine who will be selected.

Emerging Leaders is a six-month program at IECRM. The group meets one day per month for the six months. Each session includes an outside expert speaker, such as someone who talks about how to read financial statements. “During one of the sessions, we visit the state capital so the participants can meet state legislators, learn how legislative decisions are made related to our industry, and why they need to pay attention to that,” said Villwock.

In addition, in order to be a leader, a person needs to understand themselves, their characteristics, and their traits before they can be expected to successfully lead a group of people. “As a result, we do a lot of introspection in the sessions,” he said. “Many of these people are in their mid-30s, and they have been focused so much on products and work processes that they have lost touch with who they are, what their skills are, and where they are going. We bring in speakers who help them engage in this analysis.”

Another benefit of the program is that it provides networking opportunities for the participants. During the sessions, they have the opportunity to spend time with other people who are also rising stars within their organizations. These relationships will serve them well in their careers for decades to come, according to Villwock. “Regardless of how the industry changes, it always has been, and always will be, a relationship-driven environment,” he said. “This is especially important for younger people to learn and experience. Many of them have grown up interacting with others in a virtual environment – through the swipe of a finger or the touch of a button.” This program provides them with face-to-face contact.

As the program progresses, IECRM is seeing some of the older leaders, some of whom have put off plans to retire because they weren’t able to identify qualified people to replace them, starting to actually make plans to retire.

Villwock says he is happy to discuss the program with other IEC chapter leaders around the country who are interested in considering an Emerging Leaders program in their chapters. You can e-mail him at spenser@iecrm.org or call (303) 853-4886.

Rising Leaders Atlanta

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Another chapter that has taken steps to formalize the Emerging Leaders program is IEC Atlanta in Atlanta, Georgia. “The decision to begin an Emerging Leaders Program in our chapter came about as a result of our 2011-2013 strategic plan,” said Niel Dawson, Executive Director of IEC Atlanta and IEC Georgia. “We realized that, because of the aging of the workforce, we needed to look at leadership for our members and for the association. In addition, I think that as an industry and an association, we have been doing a good job of recruiting new people into the profession. However, we haven’t put as much attention on developing people into leaders once they are in the profession.”

In mid-2012, Dawson began looking at leadership material. “There was a ton out there,” he said. “We ended up selecting John Maxwell’s material as the basis for our program. He has written a number of books and is actually based in the Atlanta metro area.” Two of his books that the program uses are The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth and The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.

The program involves one full day session per month for eight months. At each session, a certified John Maxwell trainer comes in and conducts the leadership component in the morning. The afternoons are devoted to specialty topics, such as finance, legal, human resources, information technology, and other issues, as well as the importance of being involved in the political process.

“We began marketing the program at our monthly luncheon meetings,” said Dawson. Individuals who want to be in the program must be nominated, registered, and sponsored by the owners of their companies. Of course, owners themselves can nominate, register, and sponsor themselves. The cost of the program is $795, or basically $100 per session, and owners generally pay that for their employees. “We decided that we wanted to have between 12 and 16 people in the program, and we ended up with 14, about three or four of whom are business owners,” explained Dawson. “We didn’t want too many people, because there is a lot of discussion and interaction among the participants, including the importance of work-life balance. It’s not all just a lecture format.”

Another benefit for participants, besides just learning the information, has been the opportunity to network with each other.

All of the presenters bring business cards with them for each of the participants. So, at the end of the program, each participant will have about 35 business cards with contact information for professionals to whom they can reach out when they need help with various issues.

“We have done some informal checking with people in the program, and we have been getting very good reviews,” said Dawson. “We have also been asking them if they want any adjustments to the program, and, so far, we haven’t heard anything along these lines.”

IEC Atlanta anticipates starting another program in the Fall of 2014. In addition, while the program was launched by IEC Atlanta, it will eventually also be open to IEC Georgia members.

Watch for Emerging Leader Programs to be a trend within IEC at the national and chapter level. IEC’s dedication to the industry extends through the full cycle of a career from apprentice training through skills development such as these Emerging Leader Programs and into leadership dynamics.

William Atkinson is a freelance writer with experience in the construction and contracting industries.