Reality HR: David Noel on Self-Awareness as a Focus for Leadership Training
David Noel is the CEO of Dual Temp Company in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The company is a mechanical contracting and service firm, performing Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning in the commercial and institutional market. While Dual Temp has grown since its birth in 1970, one of the most important changes it has made has been in the attitude of the senior leaders. Noel is a different leader since his training at The Leadership Trust in North Carolina. The company conducts a personalized leadership development program with a self-awareness focus that transforms the corporate beasts into princely leaders.
David Noel spoke with HR.com about how he changed his personality from ´take no prisoners´ to ´sensitive´ during a week of self-awareness boot camp. We invite you the reader to share your observations regarding what it takes to make permanent positive change.
HR.com: The problem was people were telling you, or afraid to tell you, that you were difficult to deal with and approach and that if you were going to head this organization that something needed to change.
DN: Well, I didn´t get told this directly by anyone in the organization because the fear factor was there. I didn´t understand it in those days. I was the last to hear about anything and most times I didn´t hear about it at all. The awareness that I got that I should contact Dr. Holly Latty-Mann at The Leadership Trust came from a friend of mine who had gone through this workshop experience. When he came back he called me and said he had had a life-changing experience and told me that I had to go. At the time, I only thanked him for his suggestion.
HR.com: And so life went on. How did you then return to looking at going to this course?
DN: I was hosting a meeting that my friend was attending last May. I noticed how his style had moderated quite a bit and more than that I noticed one of his lead managers, whom I had known for years who had been the epitome of ´take no prisoners´, type-A style, but he seemed nice. He was warm and sensitive for the first time in my involvement with him. So, I asked him what was going on here, ´are you sick or something´? He said ´I got back from The Leadership Trust a couple of months ago and it was the best thing I ever did.´ The light bulb came on and that Monday I called The Leadership Trust.
HR.com: When you saw this manager speaking in this new way, did you see that he was still as effective as he was when he was a bear?
DN: Not only was he as effective, he was more effective because there was no turn-off factor. There was no defense mechanism that would naturally rise up in all of us.
HR.com: Take us to the one-week period when you actually went to this course.
DN: It´s a total immersion. It´s a very radical workshop. Every moment was involved with the other workshop participants. You ate with them, you went through the course materials with them. It´s not a lecture; it´s an experience. Here we have a facilitator subtly drawing a group of total strangers into a high-powered team within about 36 hours, giving us a model of how we can go back and do the same with our own staff.
HR.com: Can you give us an example of one of the more memorable exercises that you did?
DN: For me there were at least three significant, very, very powerful moments. However, I cannot give away all of Dr. Holly Latty-Mann´s secrets. I will share with you one of the first experiences that was the start of the turning point for me. Before we got to the workshop, we invited 10 people closest to us at work and personally to supply answers to specific questions about our style, our interpersonal style in leadership at the office and in leadership at home. Dr. Latty-Mann expertly applied that background feedback so as to get us to confront ourselves. Even those who had already had the experience of feedback sometime before in their career found themselves for the first time highly motivated to turn the stuff around and get rid of their negatives.
HR.com: And that would have been your first time seeing that information?
DN: Not only the first time seeing and hearing the information, but being totally unaware going into the program that I was going to be confronting a “scary me” with nine strangers present. If I had known this, I would not have signed up.
HR.com: And what stopped you from leaving at that point?
DN: I didn´t like the person I was hearing about, and I knew that deep down inside, the person I was hearing about was really not me. Yet, perception of others is everything in leadership and it made no difference that I wasn´t that person, what made the difference was that they perceived I was that person.
HR.com: Now, having identified that you were being perceived wrongly, do you think that without staying at that course you could have corrected this behavior on your own?
DN: Probably for two weeks, intellectually you can carry the game. I believe I could have come back for a short period of time and made a difference, but the impact comes in the repetition and in the interaction with all the other workshop members over the five days.
HR.com: It helps ingrain these new behaviors so that at the end of it, it was more natural for you than it had been had you left the first day.
DN: The whole workshop is making a personal game plan to reverse what we´ve learned we want to change. I put myself in the shoes of these poor people who gave me this negative feedback, who were probably thinking I was going to come back and fire them. The first item on my game plan was that I must call these people. I must talk to them one by one and thank them for their incredible honesty and bravery.
HR.com: Do you think they believed that you had really changed?
HR.com: How long did it take before they realized that you weren´t going to revert to the person you were?
DN: On about the third day back they actually took lots to see who was going to load me up and see if I would blow. And they said I passed all those tests and I never indicated, for an instant, that I was going to revert. I wasn´t even aware of any of this, it was just normal business, I thought.
HR.com: How has that affected your company and your business?
DN: We´ve now sent ten of our senior leaders to The Leadership Trust. I am so committed to the benefits of this workshop that I cannot conceive adding a leader to this company who hasn´t had the benefit of this experience. We are a very results driven company. We post our financial results every month for everybody at the company to see. We do that because we share our net profits at the end of the year with everybody. Everybody wants to see good results and it´s not incompatible to have that together with this very sensitive leadership style that we are now developing. In fact it is much more effective to combine accountability and reward systems along with the awareness and leadership principles of The Leadership Trust.
We have recently hired four new folks into our leadership positions, and are already making plans to send them, one at a time, to The Leadership Trust this coming winter. We obviously would not be making such a serious commitment if there were no assignable payback. A good start is, just check our top and bottom line results. Revenues year to date (7 months) up 43% year over year, and last year was a good year… Operating Income up over SIX TIMES!
But the biggest effect is a human one. We are clearly a growing company. We are constantly striving to hire the best possible people, most often from our competitors. Since The Leadership Trust, the workplace ambience is so amazingly peaceful, that candidates notice, just during their interview process. I find that we can now be considered the better place to work; therefore it is easier to attract, and retain the best people in our industry and market. I do not know how to put a quantitative value on that reality. It is priceless.
David Noel is CEO of Dual Temp Company in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The company is an independent full service mechanical contractor. They offer design, construction and service. Before David started with Dual Temp in 1987, he worked for General Electric for three years and then designed restaurants for 12 years. You can reach him via his company´s internet site at www.dualtemp.com.