Achievers™ is a life-changing program designed to help leaders develop a deeper understanding of their personal strengths, weaknesses and motivations. Indiana Electric Cooperatives offers this cornerstone program of the Bell Leadership Institute to executive leaders, supervisors and those
referred by their CEOs or managers.
While other programs assess how people behave, Achievers™ leaves participants with a thorough understanding of why they behave as they do. This understanding helps them better understand how they impact others and enables them to develop their own personal and effective leadership style. The Achievers course provides a deep understanding that allows participants to master the behaviors that strengthen their leadership and reduce the behaviors that get in their way of success by:
- Learning the fundamental skills for success that produce great leadership performance.
- Achieving an awareness of the major styles of leadership and the major strategies for leading people.
- Developing an understanding of themselves, the reasons they behave as they do, and the results their behavior patterns have on others.
Offered by IEC since the spring of 2022, some of the program’s key objectives are to:
- Assess personal strengths and weaknesses as a leader.
- Build practical skills to positively impact people at every level of an organization.
- Create an action plan that enhances and sustains leadership skills and effectiveness.
Get to know four Bell Leadership graduates as they share their biggest takeaways from the program and how they have grown personally and professionally from the experience.
Jay County REMC
Neil Draper had been CEO at Jay County REMC for just over two years when he took the plunge into the inaugural Bell Leadership program offered by IEC.
“The dive was deeper than I was anticipating — in a good way,” Draper said.
The course was so new to IEC’s professional development offerings, he was uncertain what to expect. But after talking to class instructor Lena Morris, vice president of careers, culture and development at IEC, and a few others who had been through the program elsewhere, he said it sounded like something that would benefit him — especially as a fairly new CEO. “It’d be a great time to reflect inward and learn a little bit more about myself so that I could be a better leader,” he said.
For the course, each participant has a “360 appraisal.” His or her spouse or significant other and a dozen others from work — coworkers, supervisors, direct reports and, in Draper’s case as a CEO, board members — are asked to fill out an in-depth questionnaire about the participant. They are asked to provide detailed, honest assessments of the person’s strengths and weaknesses and how they are perceived.
“You’re going to take a long look in the mirror, which is fine. But you’re also going to stand in front of your peers and your family and potentially your board,” Draper said. “They’re also going to be evaluating you.”
Draper, 37, became the CEO at Jay County in January 2020, after being the system engineer at Heartland REMC.
He said the two years was a “reasonable amount of time” for those he asked to fill out the appraisal to get to know him. “You certainly wouldn’t want to give this to somebody that you just met because they need to know a fair amount about you.”
While some taking the program were surprised by the appraisals they received, Draper said his were more reaffirming. “I don’t think anything necessarily was surprising about the results for me, but it was impactful. Each individual obviously had different results from the assessment. And the course was good at letting each of those individuals reflect and learn how to modify their behavior to make themselves a better leader.”
Draper noted his biggest eye-opener came from the broad range of questions. “There were some areas that I’ve never really taken the time to reflect on. This course gave me the tools to recognize those areas and then work on solutions.”
For example, some of the comments in his assessment noted he could do a better job listening when talking one-on-one or in small groups. “I tend to try to multitask,” Draper noted. “And we learned that that’s not really possible. That was one of those areas I hadn’t really thought about that much. The assessment made me realize I needed to work on that. So, now I try to be intentional with focus and listening.”
The overarching takeaway for Draper from Achievers was the need for leaders to invest in themselves before being able to invest in others. “As a new leader, I tended to look outward and work to help my team develop first. But this course tells you, ‘Hey, look inside first, get yourself where you need to be — and then you can focus on those around you more.’”
Along those lines, Draper said cooperatives also need to look inward to develop their future leaders. Investing in employees with programs like Achievers is incredibly important.
“Once you’re in the co-op, you tend to stay for a long time. There’s not a lot of change in personnel. Investing in our current employees is the best way to breed new leaders. We have the tools available through IEC and NRECA to learn about our industry specifically. So, we should be utilizing that more frequently.”
Parke County REMC
Betty Winters said she’s always had a “Beta” personality. Though she is friendly and open, she was talking about something other than the alpha/beta personality traits.
“This tells my age, but back in the early-to-mid-1980s, when VCRs first came out, the very first one was the Betamax. And then shortly thereafter, the VHS came out. My husband and I go out, and we get the Beta. The Beta actually gave you better quality. Then, lo and behold, America decided to adopt the VHS. So, then it was like, ‘Now we’re going to have to go get the VHS because everything’s leaning that way.’”
That illustrates one takeaway she had from her experience with Achievers. She realized she’s always been an early adopter of the latest and greatest gadgets and technology. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes it’s not. She never thought others really noticed that about her until her youngest daughter, 40-year-old Jacqueline Steinke, mentioned it in her 360 assessment.
“It was an eye-opener because my daughter knows me. I know her. Her perception of me surprised me, but not in a bad way. It was just there are certain things that, oh my gosh, I didn’t realize she knew.
“I want the newest and latest phone, the newest and latest smartwatch. I just gravitate to that kind of stuff. One of the comments she made is that when something new comes out, I want it. I don’t wait. I didn’t realize that was so obvious. I knew that about myself, but I didn’t really notice other people saw me that way.”
Through Achievers, the long-time manager of finance and administration at Parke County REMC has been better able to recognize the need to sometimes just slow down and be more deliberate and mindful.
“One of the things that the Bell Leadership has done for me is it’s made me stop and think that every day I need to think about my day.” In that mindfulness of each day, it’s also taught her to find something to be grateful for.
She said powerful storms hit the REMC just before the Fourth of July. “During the outages, I was grateful for the three substations we got back up and running one day. That meant a lot of members getting back up. I always try to find a positive in everything.”
An example at her position with the REMC once came with a software provider and new software they offered. “I am gung ho to see if there is a way we can use it. I had spent quite a bit of time trying to learn something that they said was out there for us to use.” When it came to real-world application, she learned it couldn’t do one specific task she was hoping it would do and that there were a lot of other issues with it.
“But I don’t look at it as a waste of time because I did learn quite a bit. I look at everything as a learning experience. Even if I feel there is a negative outcome, I ask, ‘What are some of the benefits of having gone through that process?’”
After the bad storm, Winters started thinking about what the office workers can do better for the next one. “Hopefully, it’s another 20 years before we have one that bad. But I’m trying to make a list of who’s going to be responsible to make hotel reservations for the crews coming in to help us, who’s going to be responsible for making sure breakfast is ordered every day, who’s going to be responsible for fixing sandwiches for them — that kind of thing.
“My personality is that there’s always going to be a silver lining to everything. We can learn from it and make things better for the future.”
Hendricks Power Cooperative
Jason Stewart occasionally found it tough to get out of the daily details to stop and look at the bigger picture. He hadn’t really noticed this until others pointed it out in his 360 assessment during the Bell Leadership program.
Stewart learned from his assessment that he needed to approach his growth differently and let go of some of the details and delegate so he could aspire to leadership, not “management.” And he learned from those who provided constructive feedback that they wanted him to succeed and had his back.
“It was challenging for me to get out of the details,” he said. “In our environment, there’s a trickle-down effect. I know the implications if we don’t get something done correctly and it was difficult for me to step back, guide others in their learning and development while still achieving positive results.”
But staying too deep in those details hindered some of the more visionary tasks that his role of manager of distribution design required.
“I’m always for learning about myself and trying to improve. It’s a daily effort because you can get caught up in the day-to-day. In our busy routine, it can be easy to not do the things you need to be doing to develop your employees and to make the cooperative better and flourish.”
The responses and feedback to Stewart’s questionnaire were humbling while providing patterns and affirmation for which he could delve into and better his leadership qualities.
Since completing the course this past spring, Stewart has taken a higher-level view in the cooperative’s leadership team. “I recognize by not only delegating tasks, but also leading, will help others in my department grow as well.”
Training and development takes time and people away from their everyday work. But he feels encouraged by his peers that not only support his own professional development, but also the extension of development to others around him.
“This is some of the best leadership training I’ve had,” said Stewart, who has participated in a number of other development and leadership training programs that IEC and Wabash Valley Power Alliance have offered. “The material makes sense when feedback is presented to you and its meaning becomes clear. The impact from my peers was profound and they want to help me be my best. It reaffirms the areas I want to improve upon, how others see you and what they think you’re capable of.”
Wabash Valley Power Alliance
As responsibility for the data acquisition system SCADA was being transitioned to Chevelle Williams’ IT applications department at Wabash Valley Power Alliance, Williams was going through the Bell Leadership program.
The Achievers course couldn’t have come at a more perfect time for her, the department, Wabash Valley and its member co-ops.
“There were a lot of issues when we took on that responsibility with SCADA. So, I had to really work with the members and the business to bring them all together. We were meeting on a regular basis, a couple of times a week, so we could address the issues and communication. Achievers really helped my organization, my communication and my empathy to make things happen, organizing and directing resources and people. There were times you had to have tough conversations. This program really helped me work on that.”
The SCADA transition had already begun when Williams took Achievers in March. But it made an immediate impact, she said, on her and how that transition transpired.
“It definitely helped with those difficult conversations. It helped with addressing things right away. So, if I saw something that was occurring, or I saw a bad behavior, then I addressed it immediately.”
Like almost everyone who’s been through the program, Williams agrees it’s eye-opening. “By getting the feedback, you just learn so much more about yourself. And you have to be prepared; it’s not all positive feedback. So, you have to be prepared to take that as constructive feedback, and use it to grow, to develop and work on those areas of development.”
Like Draper, Winter and Stewart, Williams said she was surprised by some comments, while others reaffirmed things she’d already thought about herself. “What I was surprised about was that a lot of people looked to me more for leadership than I necessarily thought they wanted me to have, or to take more of a leadership presence and to do more public speaking, and to share my thoughts and opinions.
“Some people are just natural born leaders, or they know that they’re leaders. I’ve done things because I’ve had to do them, not necessarily because I was trying to make a statement or make an impression.”
An example of that from her personal life was when she earned her college degree later in her working career. “I had my son,” she said. “And I thought, ‘How am I going to impress the importance of a college education on him if I don’t have one?’”
So, she quit her regular job, took a part-time job at night and went to school. “I did all these things and made all these sacrifices,” she added, “but it was because I had a goal, I was working toward something, and I was setting an example for my son.”
She said the Bell Leadership’s 360 appraisal showed that others considered her a leader. She really did impress and impact others. “I just never really thought about it in that way before. So, I was somewhat surprised that so many people look to me, rely on me, to have more of a leadership presence.”
She makes no apologies for being driven, ambitious and passionate, things people noted about her. And she thinks she’s only assertive when she must be, but now she realizes that can be intimidating. Another surprise was, like Draper, she realizes she needs to do a better job focusing on others.
“I’m trying to be more focused on people and being attentive to their needs. If someone comes into my office, I’m stopping, not looking at my phone, and giving them the attention they need — and then responding to matters right away. That makes them feel valued and helps develop trust.”
After taking the course, Williams immediately suggested it to several of her peers. “Anyone in a management or supervisory position should take the course because it really helps you gain insight and self-awareness.”
If you are interested in participating in the Achievers™ program, reach out to a member of IEC’s careers, culture and development team for registration information, or visit goiec.org/achievers.