Category: Leadership


Core Growth Participants Learn from Leaders in the Start-Up Community


Core Growth, Core Consulting’s emerging leaders program, often features guest speakers from various walks of life who share experiences and lessons learned that participants can then reflect on and take back to their own industries. Current class members are in month 6 of the program’s third installment and recently gathered at Bad Girl Ventures to hear from Nancy Aichholz, the accelerator’s Executive Director, and UpTech’s Managing Director JB Woodruff. Participants, who have all been selected by their respective companies to be in this leadership program, focused during this particular session on the importance of alignment in propelling an organization forward. Below are some bits of advice provided by Nancy and JB about the role of alignment in their professional and personal lives.

Nancy Aichholz

Nancy’s professional journey spans from the Director of Marketing at Chiquita to the ownership and operation of her own start-up, NanBrands (whose carrot cakes were featured in Nordstrom). This past experience led to her role at Bad Girl Ventures, supporting female entrepreneurs like herself. Having taken time off to raise her children and focus on political fundraising in between careers and starting her own business, Nancy is familiar with the importance of alignment. She recently hired her 7th employee at BGV.

Her advice?

-Engage the old and embrace the new

-Focus on recruitment and on-boarding to secure the right talent for your team and integrate them into the culture of your organization

-Clearly define and communicate roles at every level to avoid confusion

-Share the highest level of information appropriate to everyone involved; though this may be intuitive, it can also be mapped out

-Stay on the same page by engaging team members (with staff retreats, for example)

JB Woodruff

Now in a leadership position at UpTech, an accelerator for data-driven start-ups, JB graduated from Penn State with a degree in Information Science and Technology. After quitting as a tech consultant in 2012, he went to Kenya for 3 months to work at a startup accelerator, then spent another 3 months in Cape Town, ZA working with the same program. After this experience, he was hooked on the start-up scene and worked on his own projects before landing his current position in 2015. JB has had to juggle aligning his corporate, personal, and non-profit endeavors.

His advice?

-Set your expectations and make sure they are known and understood; eliminate ambiguity

-Understand and appreciate the context of interactions; personally, culturally, etc.

-Respect the necessity of employees to feel valued

-Build trust through actions and over-delivery on promises

-Seek feedback

-Find advocates through dialogue and clarity

-Combat groupthink; bounce ideas off those outside your organization and industry

-Never make assumptions

-Stay vigilant in reporting and checkpoints so initial alignment becomes continued alignment

-Find mentors

Core Growth participants, in hearing success stories from these two prominent leaders in the start-up community, are able to apply the concept of alignment to their own leadership roles. Learn more about Core’s emerging leaders program here. Next cohort kicks off in September! 


Emerging Utility Leaders Unite to Move the Wastewater Industry Forward

Emerging leaders from six wastewater utilities in the Midwest gathered on February 8 in Chicago to kick off a five-month program designed to grow utility leaders of the future.

The Core Growth leadership program will take the participants through four learning modules including self-discovery, crafting a vision, building alignment and championing execution, while also building regional cohorts and collaborative partnerships. This shared learning experience will enable participants to move forward leadership skills and ideas that improve the utility industry.

“As a professional who spent over seven years in the wastewater and stormwater industry, I noticed a lack of learning opportunities targeted at emerging utility leaders,” said Maggie Frye, Founder and Principal Consultant of Core. “Core Growth was designed to help enhance the potential of utility leaders whose span of influence and impact is growing in a meaningful way.”

Since learning happens from real experiences, the class will build upon the four learning modules by completing an industry-specific capstone project. The project is based on exploring real challenges that leaders are facing in the wastewater utility industry. They will use their collective expertise to develop real solutions to a selected challenge and present the results at graduation in July.

The National Association for Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), known as the nation’s leader in legislative, regulatory and legal clean water advocacy, has taken an interest in the utility leadership program and has formed a soft partnership with Core Consulting. NACWA has opened up this initial pilot to utilities who expressed interest in this one region as a starting point. If the pilot proves to be valuable on a broader scale to its members, additional regions will have access moving forward.

“I believe utilities can shape the course of environmental protection into the next century by working together,” said Adam Krantz, Chief Executive Officer of NACWA. “Core Growth offers utilities a unique learning opportunity while also inspiring collaboration that betters the industry. I hope to see utilities in other regions take advantage of this program.”

The class is comprised of a diverse group, ranging in areas of expertise, years of service and utility size. Participants come from Green Bay Metropolitan Sewerage District, Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District, Metropolitan Council Environmental Services, Metro Water Reclamation District of Chicago, Racine Wastewater Utility and Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.

About NACWA:

For more than four decades, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), based in Washington D.C., has been the nation’s recognized leader in legislative, regulatory and legal advocacy on the full spectrum of clean water issues, as well as a top technical resource for water management, sustainability and ecosystem protection interests. Helping to build a strong and sustainable clean water future, NACWA represents public wastewater and stormwater agencies of all sizes nationwide. Learn more by visiting Www.Nacwa.Org.

Check out our Chicago Highlights and click Here to learn about the local Core Growth program.

New Year, New Leaders

Core Consulting spent the large majority of 2016 helping organizations build strong leaders. We do this through client-specific partnerships and an open enrollment leadership program. And 2017 will be no different! With a regional utility leadership program kicking off in Chicago, continued client-specific curriculum underway, and another installment of our open-enrollment emerging leader class, we continue to help build the people potential of our valued clients. Thus leading to greater business success.

Hats off to our most recent graduates!











We ended 2016 with the graduation of our most recent Core Growth Emerging Leaders class. Core Growth is a 9-month public/open-enrollment leadership program for Greater Cincinnati high potentials whose span of influence and impact are growing in a meaningful way. Using Wiley’s Work of Leaders model as a framework, the program boasts:

  • Small class size
  • Hands-on, engaging and blended learning environment
  • Outdoor learning opportunities
  • Individualized development plans
  • Community service
  • Ongoing touch points with senior-level sponsors at participants’ organizations
  • Professional development at just the right point in an emerging leader’s career where they are proactively building positive leadership behaviors.

Culminating last November at the Art of Entertaining in O’Bryonville, Core Growth graduates enjoyed a recognition lunch with their Company Sponsors. We are grateful for the commitment of these individuals and are excited about the positive impact they will continue to make at their workplaces. Please join us in congratulating our most recent Core Growth graduates!

  • Angela Cook, Sanitation District No. 1
  • Angela Ozar, Bad Girl Ventures
  • Erin Grone, Harlow-HRK Sales & Marketing
  • John Lipps, Ohio National Financial Services
  • Margo Hess, Centennial Inc.

What’s next for Core Growth?

The current Core Growth emerging leader class is in the fifth month of their program and will be graduating in May 2017. This will be the third graduating class since its inception in 2015.

Registration for the 2017 class is now open! Program kick-off is scheduled for September. For more information, visit our website at or contact Amy Clark at

We also work one-on-one with organizations to build emerging and executive leadership programs to meet their unique needs. From leadership strategy, to competency modeling, to program facilitation, Core Consulting’s team of senior consultants will work with you to design a meaningful and impactful leadership development program that will advance your business strategy forward. Reach out today to get started!

Stop to smell the roses (literally)

We all get caught up in today’s pace. It’s a constant hustle and bustle. In many ways, this pace has brought about advantages for our companies. We’re pushing boundaries, innovating new and better ways of doing things, producing to higher standards. However, there are also clearly some drawbacks. Unfortunately many of these drawbacks are people-oriented: burn out and inattention to personal wellness, toxic relationships, and decisions often made without regard to the employees who execute your strategy.

RecognitionI’m writing this post as a reminder to myself and others to stop and smell the roses. We had a client last week do just that. After a multi-month project to digitize files, this rockstar team completed the final one. Was this the “sexiest,” most meaningful, or greatest thrill of a project? No, but it had to get done for the efficiency of their operations and the ultimate value they provide their clients.

It would have been so easy for them to check it off the list and move on (our lists are long, and there are always more deadlines looming!). Lucky for them, their CEO knew the importance of pausing for recognition and celebration. He surprised them with flowers and chocolates, and they recognized the achievement as a team during their morning huddle. Spirits were full and positive that day in the office (and I don’t think you have to be an I/O Psychologist to understand what that does to engagement and performance).

Moral of the story: I err on the side of idealism and tend to believe that we have the best of intentions, but unfortunately those intentions are often negated with the pace of our day. So let’s slow down when needed. Take a pause. Our workplaces are full of human beings – human beings with the need for connectedness, for appreciation, and for fulfillment with the hours they put in at work. And in fact, our business results are nothing (NOTHING!) without the hard work of the human beings who achieve them for us. So let’s not forget this.

Need to grow future leaders? Mentor AND Advocate!


There’s a lot of talk these days about mentoring, and for good reason. Ask yourself this question, “How have I developed my leadership skills and/or gotten to the point I’m at in my career?” I venture to bet at least one primary factor has been either a formal or informal mentor in your life. Someone who has believed in you; recognized your potential; provided you with constructive feedback; opened doors to new opportunities.

When I reflect on this for myself, many great mentors in my life and a few defining moments come to mind. As you read over these, I want you to think about how you can play a similar role in someone’s career at your company.

As a graduate student living in Los Angeles, one of my professors connected me to someone who ended up being my very first client as an independent consultant. She believed in my abilities (enough to attach her name to it), provided the introduction, and spent time and energy checking in and coaching me throughout the project.
I was very young (about 26 or 27), yet involved in senior management team meetings. I would often head into our Executive Director’s office after the meeting and share a few thoughts. I clearly remember him saying to me one morning, “Your input and ideas are fantastic, Maggie. I just need to you to start saying them in the meetings. Don’t come to me afterward. Start speaking up.” It was then I learned two critical lessons – 1.) You don’t always have the luxury of time to think about things thoroughly before formulating a response, and 2.) Having confidence in your thoughts and ideas is sometimes more important than the ideas themselves.
Again, still at a young age, I found myself involved in very high-level meetings to discuss organizational design. I was one of only 5 people in the meetings, and the others were the four men who ran the company. Someone had to invite me to those meetings. And I was grateful he did. I learned a great deal.
A few years later in my career, I had a valued and respected manager tell me during a performance evaluation that I could stand to show a bit more emotion; get jazzed up every now and then. I’m very patient and even-tempered, which are great strengths, but every now and then people need to see what makes me tick – both good and bad. That statement has stuck with me ever since, and in a good way.
Same situation – another performance evaluation. I was told that sometimes we need to “roll with it.” We have to remain flexible in our approach and not get too nailed down to a pre-meditated and potentially overly structured outline or project map. Leave room for agility. You have no idea how much this changed how I approach my work, and most definitely for the better.
I am blessed to have several people in my life who believe in me and let that be known. In fact, I just read a note from someone last week that said, “You will be successful.” When people believe in us like this, it’s amazing what we can accomplish.


It is so important to have strong mentors in our lives. Thinking back to the very first question I asked, my answer is most definitely through mentors. I would add, however, that it’s been a mix of both mentoring and advocacy. We need both if we want our careers to progress. Hopefully you saw examples of Mentors and Advocates in the above scenarios.

Sometimes these roles are filled by the same people, and sometimes they’re not. Either way doesn’t really matter, it’s just important that both are present. If you are truly committed to building your next generation of leaders, you must ensure that both mentoring and advocacy are happening inside your organization. Below is a brief description about the roles of each.

The role of a Mentor (To educate and grow)

  • Share your experiences and lessons learned
  • Build desired skill sets through ongoing coaching
  • Raise awareness of both strengths and limitations your mentee might not be privy to (tell them what is often left unsaid – you might be the only one willing to say it)
  • Help the mentee discover her or his passion and strengths

The role of an Advocate (To champion)

  • Provide access to opportunities, experiences, relationships, and resources that the other person might not otherwise have access to
  • Speak out for the continued advancement of the individual
  • Let the individual know you believe in her/his skills and abilities and the impact they can have on the organization’s success
  • Influence the decisions of others in ways that will positively support the individual’s continued growth and visibility

Who can you mentor and/or advocate for inside your organization? Your future success depends on it.

Leading a Virtual Team: Part 4 of 4

Well, we’ve made it to the last post of our 4-part series on “Leading a Virtual Team.” Below are links to the first three posts if you’d like to catch up on the discussion:

Acquire & Develop the “Right” Talent

file9041271767671Having worked between 40%-100% from my home for the past three years, I’ve given a lot of thought to the innate strengths and learned behaviors it takes for the remote worker to succeed. There’s a lot out there aimed at uncovering the much needed competencies of virtual leaders, this blog series included; however, not as much emphasis in recent years has been placed on what each and every team member (not just the “boss”) who works virtually needs to do well in order to thrive in that role.

As the leader of a virtual team, you want to pay keen attention to the “type” of employee you hire, as well as the development opportunities you offer and encourage. The remote lifestyle is definitely not for everyone. I have a few friends who readily admit they would get “NOTHING!” done if they worked from home; too many distractions – television, hobbies, laundry, etc. I’m thinking you probably wouldn’t want them on your virtual team, or if they were on your team, you’d want to offer learning opportunities for them to grow in some of the skill sets I describe below.

There is even talk about a new(ish) term, “Virtual Competence” in today’s workplace. In a March 2014 Cambridge University Press post titled, “Is there such a thing as virtual competence?,” author Bob Dignen explores the exact topic of this blog post – what underlying competencies do remote workers need to excel in to be successful on a virtual team?

I very much agree with what Bob outlines as 5 key skills that comprise “virtual competence,” and you will see similar thoughts in what I’ve shared below. I’ve ended up with my own list of 6, which adds discussion around a few other key behaviors as well.

I encourage you, as a virtual leader, to design interview questions, create learning plans, provide feedback, and structure rewards around the competencies below. And as always, please add your own thoughts/additions to this list in the Comments section.

1. Self-discipline

Gallup’s StrengthsFinder theme of Achiever comes to mind when I think of this one. Achievers cannot go to bed at night until every item on their to-do list is complete. As described by Gallup, Achievers have “…an internal fire burning inside that pushes you to do more, to achieve more.” Watch the video below to learn more about Achievers:

Although intrinsic self-discipline can be hard to “teach,” you can certainly focus learning efforts on skills such as time management and SMART goal setting. You can also model the way as the team’s leader by demonstrating self-discipline in your own practices, as employees often mirror the behaviors of their leaders.

2. Relationship Building

The first post of this series was dedicated entirely to encouraging you to connect and build relationships amongst your virtual team. You want to acquire and build a team that has stellar relationship-building skills. They can’t nurture relationships around the water cooler, so if they have super power strength in this skill set, it will certainly help your cause. Demonstrating mutual respect, networking, valuing diversity, and cooperating with others are all traits you want to acquire and foster. If you have a team member who struggles in this area, it will be far too easy for her or him to “hide” away in the digital world and work in a silo.

3. Emotional Intelligence

When working virtually, we have a tendency to become somewhat robotic and remove the human element from our daily interactions. It’s easy to “yell” at someone via email without the repercussion of seeing them the next day; to not detect and seek to understand the variety of emotions expressed during a conference call; to not change course or style based on the feelings you detect, etc.

This can harm your team’s internal dynamics, as well as the output received by customers, so you want to be proactive in ensuring your virtual team’s EQ is strong.

4. Active Listening

Ever been on one of those conference calls where everyone just talks over each other, or where you’re silent and working on something else because you don’t have the energy to fight for air time? We get on the phone and feel we need to talk, and that our only chance to prove our worth to the team or client is to insert our 1 or 2 thoughtful contributions during each meeting (because we have no other way to prove ourselves and stand out from our home office).

What if your team members, rather, were less self-focused on demonstrating their intelligence and ideas and more outwardly-focused on achieving a deepened understanding of your clients’ needs and colleagues’ points of view? In order to get there, they need to be really good listeners, questioners, and also have the confidence to be comfortable with periods of silence on the other end.

5. Tech-savviness

Just as it’s important for you as the team lead to be tech-savvy, as discussed in Part 3 of this series, it is likewise imperative for your team members to understand and utilize technology with ease. Are they active on social media, do they understand the frameworks behind large digital platforms well enough to identify what’s possible for a front-end user, are they comfortable posting their thoughts and contributions on a team wiki site? These are all things you want to consider when acquiring and developing the talent on your virtual team.

6. Ethics & Integrity

Trust in the workplace is a hot topic right now and has been attributed as a key factor impacting levels of employee engagement. As with the other competencies discussed in this post, trust is harder to build in the digital world than in person. So, it’s an area where your team will need to use a little extra elbow grease – with each other and with your clients. The highest levels of honesty at all times should be the expectation, along with consistent reliability, follow through, and transparent communication. Again, this is an area where you have the unique ability and influence to model the way for your team.


Need help building your team’s virtual competence or modifying your hiring practices to ensure you’re bringing on the “right” talent from Day 1? Core would love to help. Just visit our Contact page.

Leading a Virtual Team: Part 3 of 4

Note: This is the third post in a 4-part series on Leading a Virtual Team. I’ve listed links below to the other three posts:

Part 3: Perfect Team Communications

Virtual CommsAhhh…communication (sigh). Why is it that nearly every conversation I have about something gone wrong includes the word “communication” as a key focal point? We’ve been practicing human communication since our Neanderthal days and studying it as an academic field as early on as Ancient Greece (to my knowledge, possibly prior), but we just can’t seem to get it right.

Termed by many as a “soft skill” (argh!), communication is hard – very hard. Add on the growing existence of virtual teams in today’s workforce, and you probably feel like just hanging up your hat when it comes to perfecting communications.

BUT (here’s where this somber story takes a turn in the protagonist’s favor), you CAN enhance communications amongst your virtual team. How, you ask? I’ve rounded up a few tips in this third installment of Core’s Leading a Virtual Team series.

Create a Game Plan

Communicate about your communications. Don’t just assume that everyone has the same practices when it comes to text vs. email vs. conference calls vs. IM vs. [insert any number of virtual comms platforms here]. Because there are so many channels out there at your disposal, it’s important that you create a game plan and make sure everyone is on the same page.

What channels do we use to communicate what?

For example, you might determine as a group to use:

  • Group chat for brief back-and-forth throughout the day (preventing a mess in your inbox)
  • Email for lengthier messages; communication with clients; communicating across time zones that prohibit real-time chat; etc.
  • Phone when something is more efficient to discuss during a quick 5-10 minute call versus lots of back and forth on chat or email
  • Google Drive for file sharing and collaboration
  • Shared calendar for out-of-office schedules
  • Weekly digital newsletter for sales success stories and industry trends/thought leadership
  • Private team Facebook page for leisure and social content
  • Weekly webcam calls for team touch points /updates

What’s appropriate and what’s not?

Once you’ve determined what each channel should be used for, you might want to consider crafting general behavioral guidelines. Have your team develop these “rules of thumb” themselves. For example:

Email Do’s And Don’ts

Acknowledge via a reply within a 24-hr period Include people who don’t need to know or take action
Be as brief as possible and use bullets/lists whenever possible Use ALL CAPS
Use the red flag sparingly – only in true cases of urgency Reply All unless everyone needs to see your response
Avoid after-hours and weekend emails to respect personal time and wellness Use email to address a sensitive topic that deserves a more personal delivery


Virtual Meeting Do’s and Don’ts

Have a clear purpose and agenda Schedule on Monday mornings or Friday afternoons (team members need this time to adequately prepare for their week ahead and tie up any loose ends)
Start and end on time if you are the host and arrive a few minutes early as a participant Send call-in details right before it starts (include them in original appt.)
Turn your webcam on (often helps avoid people talking over each other and keeps everyone more engaged in the discussion) Invite unnecessary participants who are not needed to advance the topic forward
Open the virtual meeting space up 10 minutes prior to start time if you are the host Fail to address the details of who is responsible for what (be specific!)
Mute your phone when not speaking to minimize background noise (and unmute before you speak!) Interrupt/announce yourself if you log in late; the Host will be able to see that you have joined
Be aware of all time zones when scheduling your meeting Turn beeping notifications on for attendees entering and leaving the meeting space
Conclude by recapping discussion and summarizing next steps Have your email notifications on when sharing your screen


As an aside, check out this funny YouTube clip. I’m sure many of you have already seen it, but just had to share:

With a plan like this in place, your team now knows what communication channels to use for what purpose and how to appropriately use each one. You will really start rocking and rolling now!

Three implementation tips for your virtual team’s communications strategy:

  1. Turn it into something visual. A quick reference page for your team to keep visible at their home office would be helpful.
  2. Make sure you onboard every new team member with your communications strategy from Day 1.
  3. Revisit every 6-12 months and tweak as needed. With the number of digital communication tools entering the market each day, you never know what might work better. However, also don’t feel a need to change just because the latest trendy product or service has launched. If it’s working – stick with it.

Become Tech Savvy & Provide Access to Tools

As the leader of a virtual team, it’s imperative that you are very aware of digital workplace tools and that you provide your team members with the tools they need to be successful as a virtual worker. Don’t skimp in this area. It will make your team feel inadequately equipped, and thus less valued.

Ask yourself – Does my team have the right digital infrastructure in place to most efficiently and effectively support each other and our clients?

Consider needs such as:

  • IM/Chat (I’ve had colleagues recommend HipChat and Slack during this series)
  • Shared calendaring
  • Files sharing and collaboration – Check out Google Drive, Evernote, Basecamp and Dropbox just to name a few
  • Screen sharing & web conferencing – Check out, Google Hangouts, or any number of web conferencing solutions
  • Social networks – You can use public sites like Twitter, Facebook or Instagram (that have the capability to set up private collaboration), or you can consider internal enterprise solutions such as Jive, Share Point and Yammer
  • Hardware – Don’t forget about critical physical devices such as smart phones, laptops, tablets, hot spots, etc. Make sure your team members are equipped with reliable devices; otherwise it can really hinder productivity.

As always, please share your own thoughts and resources below. There are so many useful tools to help virtual teams these days, and I’ve only skimmed the surface here with some of what I’ve shared. I’d love to hear what is working well for your virtual team.

Stay tuned for our last piece on this series, which will be “Acquire & Develop the Right Talent.”

Till next time…