Cultivating a Culture of Leadership

J.R. Ball Executive Connection, Issue 07 - Sept/ Oct 2013 Leave a Comment

Dallas Executives Explore Leadership Development Opportunities.

By J.R. Ball

Cream, as they say, rises to the top.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that, once a month on the 17th floor of a mid-town Dallas high-rise, the top brass from companies headquartered in the metroplex—each with annual revenues in excess of $250 million—rub elbows over bacon, eggs, and steaming cups of fresh-brewed coffee.

The linchpin that brings and binds them together: Executive Connection.

executive_connection_5Launched in 2004, Executive Connection is an assembly of 270 C-suite leaders, chairpersons, presidents, and EVP’s who regularly convene before most of their employees have begun to shuffle into their respective offices.

“Most organizations are saturated with outside distractions such as sales representatives and job seekers,” says Kenton Kisler, Executive Director and Founder of Executive Connection. “This often prevents top level executives from participating.”

This group, Kisler explains, is very different.

“Our members represent some of the world’s most recognizable brands. In a protected setting, our members enjoy peer-level interaction at multiple events throughout the year. They also get to showcase what philanthropic work they’re doing in the community and give others the chance to get involved,” elaborates Kisler.

The group’s most recent meeting, held as daylight broke over the Dallas skyline on June 12, met all of the aforementioned objectives. It also welcomed keynote speaker David Spivey, Director of Leadership Development Programs for Corporate Education at the University of Texas at Dallas’ Naveen Jindal School of Management.

Spivey’s keynote, based on the executive education curriculum designed by his department, detailed the process of developing committed, effective leaders across an organization and how to cultivate an environment where leadership can flourish—and be rewarded.

executive_connection_3The challenge, Spivey explains, is that unless leadership development and employee satisfaction can be linked to financial performance, it often goes overlooked.

“Many organizations look at development as an option,” says Spivey. “It’s something to be done when it can be afforded. But, if you wait until the bank account is full, you may get left behind.”

Spivey cited a poll conducted by the University of Texas at Dallas, wherein 93 percent of companies surveyed listed “leadership development” as one of their top strategic priorities. Only 11 percent of companies in the survey, however, had any form of leadership development program in place.

“There’s not an easy answer for why companies don’t develop leadership training programs—the simplistic answer would be, they’re really not sure what to do,” says Spivey. “What makes the situation even more complex is that many organizations believe operational efficiency is the key to long term success.”

A 2009 study, referenced by Spivey, by global consulting firm Watson Wyatt Worldwide, Inc., (now Towers Watson) indicated 88 percent of U.S. companies had virtually the same operational capabilities.

executive_connection_4“Your greatest opportunities reside with the people inside your organization, not an operational edge. If you’re not investing in leadership training now, you can bet your competitors will be,” says Spivey.

Several Executive Connection members, including Derek Blake, Vice President of Marketing for La Quinta Inns and Suites, echoed Spivey’s points.

“You can’t place too great an emphasis on the importance of having a strong corporate culture,” says Blake. “We strive to uphold an environment built around collaborative success.”

Leadership cultivation was notably top of mind for Blake as well as other Executive Connection members who, after Spivey’s keynote, met offline to discuss present strategies and opportunities for improvement.

The receptiveness of the group further illustrated how great ideas—much like the cream served alongside that morning’s coffee—rises to the top.


By the Numbers

When it comes down to brass tax, investing in corporate leadership for the future often takes a backseat to the keeping today’s balance sheets in the black. Here are a few numbers that indicate it might be worth the investment today.



The number of years the Saratoga Institute conducted exit interviews to find out why professionals resigned from their positions. The number one reason: Relationship with manager.



The number of HR surveys collected over a 25-year period by Gallup. Again, the number one reason professionals left their positions: Relationship with manager.



Where “relationship with manager” ranked as the reason employees stayed in their current positions, also courtesy of Gallup.


8% Do,

92% Don’t

The breakdown of U.S. companies that have employees who routinely deliver beyond expectations.
(Source: Aubrey Daniels International)



Since 1998, the return recouped by companies on Forbes “100 Best Companies to Work For” list.
(Source: Russell Investment Group)



Since 1998, return listed by companies found on the S&P 500.
(Source: Russell Investment Group)


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