CEO Roundtable Case Study

I am the owner and agent for an insurance agency. Our business started back in 1984. And we joined the roundtable in 2015.

The Silver Fox Advisors Roundtable helps in numerous ways. One is being able to talk with others who are also running a business, who know and understand what you are going through and can offer advice or help you with running your business. Another is finding out that you are doing things correctly. Running a business without any feedback leads to a lot of second-guessing yourself. And this can eliminate some trial and error.

Another is, you can bounce ideas off each other, this gives you more knowledge of what you are contemplating, and different perspectives than if you had just gone ahead and moved forward. And when other business owners are talking, the feedback and communication between the group is shared and knowledge is parted from others providing another way to learn and grow your knowledge of running a business.

If you’re facing a hard decision or a major problem, this is the group you can share your problem with and get some help or strategy with dealing with the issue.

By coming to the monthly meetings, I hold myself accountable and make a commitment within the group to be working on and to improve and move my business forward. By doing this, I am also asking the others to participate and make the effort within their business. And in doing so, you are helping them and are giving as much as receiving.

I have recommended the Silver Fox Advisors Roundtable to others.

Thank you,

John C Keenan


281-580-8554 (PHONE)

281-580-7381 (FAX)



Understanding the Bigger Energy Picture

With average gasoline prices in the United States passing $5 per gallon this month for the first time ever, energy has really captured the headlines showcasing the very real impact on many people’s pocketbooks and way of life. This has reenergized the dialogue and debate over oil’s usage, the primary feedstock for gasoline, and politically the need to switch more quickly to wind and solar.

Unfortunately, our modern information world of cable news, twitter, and other forms of media showcases unbalanced snippets.  Having spent my career in the energy industry, over the years I have found it rather appalling at the naivete and lack of depth of understanding for such a complex energy/environmental system that fundamentally powers our standard of living.

In my blog of October 25, 2021, on Understanding the Energy Quagmire, the focus was on climate change highlighting the issues around renewable energy and fossil fuels.  My overall conclusion was we needed a more thoughtful balance of the risks and rewards of different courses.

Then in my blog of March 4, 2022, we looked at the concept of energy security being made up of economic security, national security, and environmental security. In other words, energy security plays a major role in the other three primary securities which are central to daily living. Today, we are seeing the impact on economic security which doesn’t receive much attention until energy prices rise significantly.  In the blog, I referenced a presentation that I had given in August of 2021 before Russians invasion of Ukraine.  I made the point in that presentation that we were underplaying the role of energy security in terms of its potential impact on national security, in other words, a lack of balance and foresight.  The Russia/Ukraine war has brought this reality to the forefront.

Today, I received an e-mail from Scott Tinker, Director, Bureau of Economic Geology & State Geologist of Texas who is a Professor at the University of Texas.  I met Scott through my role at the University of Houston’s Global Energy Management Institute at the Bauer College, and my leadership role in the GHP’s Energy Collaborative.  He is incredibly knowledgeable and insightful on the energy/environment complexities and recently produced a YouTube video entitled TEDx-The Dual Challenge: Energy and Environment. 

Scott really addresses the bigger energy picture in a balanced way. He has requested us to share this 17-minute video with friends, colleagues, and social networks.  It will give you much greater insight into the big picture reality of energy beyond simple snapshots through the media.  Please listen to his insight:

Highlighting Rich Hall

Silver Fox Advisors is proud of our members and would like for you to get to know them better.

Rich Hall has been a valued member of Silver Fox Advisors since 2020. He currently serves as a Board member, Chair of the Membership Committee, and Facilitator of two CEO Roundtables (The Woodlands area and in partnership with Houston’s Better Business Bureau).

As the founder of Rich Hall Group, he works with small business owners and leaders to help them achieve their vision of success for themselves and their company. He has extensive experience with family-owned businesses looking to grow, transition to the next generation, or prepare for a successful exit.

In addition to his advisory and coaching services, Rich is the proud father of 3 boys, Jeremy, Mark, and Daniel, and husband to his beautiful wife, Jamie. They’re active members of The Woodlands Methodist Church, and parents to pandemic puppies, Bucky and Riley.

If you would like to learn more about Mr. Hall, or Silver Fox Advisors, see our website at

Case Study: The nybl Story

Every small growth company has a unique story to tell including lessons learned. 

The insights from their story and lessons learned help drive their company forward into the next phase of their journey.

For others who are orchestrating their own growth, these insights can be invaluable to help them in their journey.

Overall, my 4 Stage Growth Model for Small Companies provides a useful conceptual framework in assessing your current position and planning for your next stage.

My blog entitled Achieving the Take-Off Stage in Small Business describes moving from the Growth Stage to Take-Off with some mentoring advice.

It is particularly challenging to move into this Take-Off Stage. So, I felt hearing the story of one who has done it would be beneficial for those pursuing this leap.

One of my clients has been receptive in sharing his company’s story, and he has also become a mentor for young entrepreneurs.  

I want to introduce you to Noor Alnahhas.

Our relationship began in January 2017.  Noor was one of three principals in a software development company.  The other two principals were technically focused while Noor provided the business perspective.  He had graduated from the Wolff Entrepreneurship Center at the University of Houston Bauer College of Business.

Silver Fox Advisors CEO Roundtable

While the entity had been operating for a number of years, it had no definitive vision or substantive plans for the future which was quite concerning to Noor. 

I suggested that he join my CEO Roundtable where he could get insights on planning from other CEOs of small growing companies.

At the time, each member was utilizing the EOS (Entrepreneur Operating System) framework to explain to other roundtable members their future plans. Noor found the EOS framework from Gino Wickman’s book TRACTION Get A Grip on Your Business most helpful in pulling together his thoughts for the business.

 It also became clear that the leadership structure of the company was not going to get them where they needed to go.

Silver Fox Advisors Fox Den

As the plans took shape, my suggestion was for him to participate in a Fox Den where the Silver Fox Advisors provide a review of the business plan and challenges. 

Generally, there are four advisors with a moderator to coordinate the session.  The plans and issues are provided in advance, so the session provides focused advice.

Noor felt this was extremely helpful because the advisors did not have a built-in bias as do personal friends, investors, and so forth.  They were frank and straight forward in their commentary and assessments. Just what he wanted and needed.

Advisor Role

I have been an advisor and mentor to Noor for some five years now.

Two main aspects of our discussions have been strategy and leadership.  One of my reasons for developing the 4 Stage Growth Model for small companies was to provide a framework for clients like Noor.  It has been an integral part of their planning.

Similarly, the Leadership Personal Profile has been a tool to help leaders understand themselves better and where they need to develop further.  Noor has been a champion of the profile. 

Here are some insights into his profile that will help you understand the nybl story.

Part of Noor’s personal vision is to build companies, chase opportunities, and work with people he enjoys being around. 

One of his key values is finding the positive as he believes negativity achieves nothing.

His perspective on life is there is no such thing as luck, just opportunity meeting preparedness.  If you fall three times, you just have to get up 4 times so that every failure is a step toward success.

His character statement starts with “I am a fun, friendly, and honest person who will do whatever it takes to deliver on my commitments/promises. 

He recognizes that he needs to think more before acting and listen more than talking.

As you can see, Noor is a high achiever.  He strategically looks for the solution in every challenge pondering new and out of the box ideas if that solves the challenge. His leadership brand is chief of dreaming stuff up.

 Over this period, Noor has relocated to the Middle East and has now become the CEO of the reformulated company named nybl.  Here is the nybl story in Noor’s own words.

Noor Telling nybl Story

“Nybl, its structure, strategy and subsequent success are all the result of the lessons learned over many years of doing the wrong thing. But these lessons came much later than the events that brought them about, and I only learned these lessons when I got external, unbiased feedback, mentoring and support – which came from the CEO Roundtable, Mentoring from Lane, and the Fox Den feedback.

The difficulty with achieving moderate success is the complacency it can lead to. The previous enterprise I was a member of had fallen into the moderate success complacency rut. While I was not satisfied, some of my partners were and this was a significant concern for me. This lack of satisfaction drove me to find a source of advice, mentoring and help to get out of the rut, and achieve my personal goals and ambitions.

During my undergraduate studies at the University of Houston, I had the privilege to work with Ralph D’Onofrio, a member of the Silver Fox Advisors, in mentor roundtables setup as part of the Entrepreneurship program in the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship. I remembered the valuable lessons I learned from Ralph (which I still use today). I set out searching for a way to find a similar source of help. After finding several very expensive roundtable and communities – I went back to the original source at the Silver Foxes and discovered the CEO roundtables. It was exactly what I was looking for, and best of all, it was free. I sent in my application, and after a few interviews I was placed into a group led by Lane Sloan.

The roundtable had a group of CEOs from diverse industries and business types, but it was quickly clear that we all faced similar challenges. I learned from everyone’s experiences and challenges. I shared my challenges, thoughts and ideas and I got incredible feedback, suggestions, advice, and thoughts shared from the CEOs in my roundtable. While the CEO Roundtable provided an immense value, I realized that I needed more one-on-one mentorship. This is where journey with Lane begins.

Lane’s approach on mentoring me was strategic in and of itself. First, we identified my personal strengths and weaknesses, which helped us both understand where I was and what I needed to do to improve. He then helped me map out my personal purpose so we could both understand my personal drivers and motivators. From there we worked together to define where the company was currently in the 4-stage growth model, and where we wanted to go. And finally, he combined all of these to develop a complete strategy. Short term, long term, personal and business. It’s been an incredible adventure. I learned things about myself I never knew. But most importantly this entire process was the jet fuel to our nybl Rocketship.

I’ll go into the values and importance of each of the steps Lane took, but I must point out the most important one of all: being a guiding north star. Building a sustainable, profitable and scalable business is one of the most challenging things I have ever done. If it were easy, everyone would do it. It’s stressful, all-consuming, and at times downright demotivating. It takes a ridiculous level of commitment and belief in your concept to battle through all of that. The problem is sometimes, you might just have a bad idea. This is what I believe is the most difficult part of being an entrepreneur: you must believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that the impossible task you are setting out to accomplish is achievable even when no one also has been able to achieve it. So, at what point do you give up if it’s not working? Or, how do you know to continue your perseverance at the most difficult times? How do you know if your idea is actually a good one? You need someone like Lane. A trustworthy, experienced, mentor, advisor, friend to tell you, without any agenda or bias, if your idea sucks and it’s time to throw in the towel or if what you have is really something and you should keep fighting for.

People will be happy to share their opinions. Why “you’re crazy” and “you should just get a job” because that’s the only world they know. Or, how it’s irresponsible to “put all your eggs in one basket”. Your true friends and family may be supportive even when they shouldn’t be because they believe that’s how they should help, by being your support system. With Lane as my mentor, I didn’t worry about intent, agenda or bias. When I was doing something wrong, he would point it out. When I chased shiny objects that were diverting my attention from the vision, he told me to focus. When things were going great, he cheered me on. But, most important of all: when it was difficult, stressful, and reaching a point where I could easily give up, he would explain where he saw opportunity. He didn’t tell me what to do, or why to do it. He allowed me to peer through his lenses, see my journey from his perspective and realize, that if what I was doing didn’t make sense, he would have told me. That is the most valuable insight I got from Lane. It allowed me to hustle and work harder. To believe, even when everything seemed impossible, and to get through the most difficult times. Throughout the rest of this article you will come to see the incredible mentorship, advice, and value Lane’s coaching provided, but there is no doubt that being a guiding north star is one of the greatest values of all . So, find your Lane Sloan. It will change your life.

Our adventure began with identifying my strengths and weaknesses as an individual, and as a leader in my organization. The interesting part was the reasoning behind this exercise. Contrary to the usual approach, it was not to “work on my weaknesses”. Lane had a great approach: if you improve your weaknesses, and don’t build on your strengths, you end up being average. Instead, focus on your strengths to turn them into superpowers and compliment your weaknesses with those who have them as strengths. That creates 2 superstars instead of one average individual. Based on the outcome of my Strengthsfinder test, we devised a plan on how to augment my weaknesses using my team and build on my strengths. This was the first step, and it allowed us both to know where I should and should not spend my time. This exercise also taught me one of the most valuable lessons – when and what to delegate to my colleagues, who were better than me at their strengths, my weaknesses.

The second step of the process was my personal purpose. This was life changing for me. Prior to defining my personal purpose, I constantly faced internal battles of work / life balance and making decisions related to the mix of business and personal. As an entrepreneur, that line is very blurry. But, after being brutally honest with Lane and myself during the Personal Purpose exercise, everything became crystal clear. I had, without even knowing, created a prioritization hierarchy for everything in my life by simply defining what I wanted to achieve – my personal purpose – in all aspects of my life. Now, this may sound daunting, but the exercise is very well thought out and takes approximately 2 hours with a great coach taking you through it. These 2 hours were the best I ever invested in myself. Understanding my personal purpose also created goals, targets, and milestones for my personal life. I always had a business plan, timelines and milestones for work, but never applied the same level of thought and planning into my personal life. Defining personal purpose makes every decision, whether personal or business, a simple decision. It either fits and delivers on your personal purpose or doesn’t. THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING!  

Once we had defined my own strengths and weaknesses, and my personal purposes we now moved on to the business.

The process for the business was similar. We began with an audit like approach – defining where the business sat in the 4-stage growth model. If you’re not familiar with it, the 4 Stage Growth Model, as it is defined by Lane, categorizes businesses based on their growth stages, and helps in building a strategy to move from one stage to the next. It is important to identify where you stand, in order to identify where your focus needs to be now, and where it should be in the future. The Four stages are Development, Growth, Take-off and Expansion. Through this analysis we identified that nybl was at a critical point: moving out of the growth stage, and into the take-off stage. But, we were still acting like a company in the growth stage. Our organization was not ready for take-off. We did not have the proper processes, systems, organizational strategy, and internal leadership that take-off requires. As a leader, I had to take responsibility for the position we were in. Most of it stemmed from my lack of developing my internal team into leaders of their own. This is, by far, the most important quality of a leader – to build their team into independent leaders capable of carrying the mission and vision forward on their own with guidance.

“if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there”

  • Lewis Carroll

Before working on our short-term strategy, we first mapped out the long-term strategy. Once that was complete, we knew where we were going, and could devise the short-term strategies that would take us from one milestone to the next – our path to success.

This began in January of 2020. The original 7, as I like to call us (the 6 co-founders and our founding investor) sat down for 5 days to decide where we wanted to go. We emerged with a vision. A company built to transform data into intelligence, and a long-term strategy to be a camel, not a unicorn. A sustainable, profitable company that will be much, much larger than a unicorn, and not mythical! To become the largest technology innovator in the Middle East generating human, technological, and economical value in the Middle East and exporting them to the rest of the world. That was our plan for nybl.

Now it was time to get to work.

Now that we had this Big Hairy Audacious Goal in mind, we set out to map the path to get us there, one milestone at a time. The first milestone was to prepare our company for the take-off that was we were on the verge of. This was a gargantuan task in and of itself. It meant hours of discussions, planning, strategizing, re-planning, re-strategizing and more discussions. We worked on everything, beginning with the organization. We mapped out the current team, their strengths, and weaknesses and where they could become superstars of their own. We identified the gaps, and weaknesses that no one had strengths to fill, and set out a plan on how to build a world changing organization.

Every hour of conversation with Lane turned into tens of hours of work with the team. Lane and I met on a weekly basis, sometimes twice a week when the progress permitted. The company began to take on a life of its own. Mind you, this process began during COVID, right when we all got locked down. At a time when we had no clue how we were going to even make payroll at the end of the month. But, having a clear vision of where we were going and what we wanted to achieve gave us the energy and motivation to power through the most difficult times. It enabled us to take one rejection after another from investors (we were not ready for them at the time). We took every rejection as a learning opportunity: how could we have done better? Where did our messaging fail? What did we do wrong? How can we improve in the next round? We learned. We improved. Most importantly, we continued to build the foundations for expansion.

We emerged from lockdown with an incredible plan. One that paved the way to the company we are today. In the past 12 months, we’ve grown from an 8 person “start-up” to a truly global scale-up with 40+ people all over the world working with more cohesion than organizations running for years. This was not luck. It was preparedness meeting opportunity. It was the hard work put in to focus on the foundations to enable sustainable growth. Most importantly it was thanks to the invaluable coaching from Lane Sloan, the support from our initial investors and my incredible co-founders. We owe everything to this group of people. An incredible handful of people who believed in our vision and supported us every step of the way. Shriprakash, Ayman, Rawan, Rashad, Mohammed, Essam, Saleh, Karim, my Father Nasser Alnahhas and of course Hugo. Of course, my co-founders and the entire nybl team – thank you all!

Our Growth stage organization had become a take-off organization. Individual members were now leaders. Each with their own path, milestones, and responsibilities as part of the rocket ship we called nybl, barreling through space. As the saying goes, we were here to kick ass and chew bubble gum, and we were all out of bubble gum J 

2021 was our transformational year. We began the year with a major theme: getting our house in order. This meant organizational, structural, legal, financial, and most important of all, people. All part of the 4-stage growth model, to be ready for expansion.

We began this transformation with our people culture. It is my belief that every single company in the world is a people company. Regardless of the product or service a company delivers, it is the people of that company that manufacture the product or deliver the service. Together with our newly appointed Chief People Officer (Reem Osman, our savior) we built an organization destined for success. We made it our goal to be the best place in the world to work. If our people loved working at nybl, their output would be stupendous. And it is! 

We brought on a CFO (Shoutout to Hans and Kristian from Finstrat Management). Through their fractional accounting & finance service we built a financial structure fit for multinationals. We had solid financial metrics, we planned, we budgeted, we forecasted, we analyzed and repeated. Over, and over until we had it right.

We built our team out with the structure for expansion, and a focus on culture. Software developers, data scientists, industry experts, product champions. This focus on our people enabled us to develop world changing technology, and this technology yielded incredible products. These products brought business and as a result we signed multiple long-term, global contracts during 2021 to set the stage to move nybl from take-off to expansion in one year. And what an incredible year it has been.

We entered 2021 with 14 people. As I write this today, we enter 2022 40 strong and growing. Our biggest competitors are now our partners, and our journey is just beginning. 2022 marks the year we shift from take-off to expansion.

 And we’re not going to just expand, we’re going to explode. We explode with an arsenal of tools including our culture, technology, strategy, and a vision and a mission. Lane and I continue our sessions on a regular basis. Each time, analyzing our strategy, making pivots and adjustments where necessary, and working on each step towards our giant goal.

Our milestone for the year is to become a Billion-dollar company (yes, with a B). Not through valuation from investors, but by sheer volume of business, technology, and innovation. It is our first critical milestone in our journey to becoming a camel. It’s an incredibly challenging milestone. One that is exciting, motivating, and fun! So much fun, I sometimes forget it’s work.

Peter Drucker says “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. I’d like to add my own twist to his quote: great culture combined with great strategy eats whatever it wants. That is the essence, the secret sauce to nybl. Incredible culture, with incredible strategy. I wish I could say we thought of that all on our own. But we owe our success to our team, our investors and to every person and organization that supported us along the way.

To The Dubai Future Foundation, and The Dubai Future Accelerators: Thank you for believing in a handful of people with nothing more than a vision.

To Smart Dubai Government, Dubai Health Authority and ADNOC: Thank you for giving us the opportunity to prove ourselves when no one else would give us the time of day.

To our investors and board of advisors: Without your unwavering support we could not have survived the difficult times. Thank you for your belief in a vision and mission greater than all of us.

To the nybl team: Without each and every one of you Rockstars, none of this would be possible.

To the original 7, my ride or die co-founders: This is the result of your dedication and belief. Our Journey is just beginning, and the dream is becoming a reality.

To my Mother, My Father, my Wife, and my beautiful Daughters: I love you. Thank you for the support and for being my light during the darkest of days.

And of course, to Lane Sloan: Thank you for taking on a scrappy entrepreneur who wouldn’t give up and imparting the most valuable of your assets: your time, and your knowledge. You are a gift, a treasure.” 

My Remarks

When I asked Noor to write the nybl story, I was interested to see what he would say.  This is not really a typical case analysis with detailed financials and particular steps along the way.  It is all about his learning and feelings that led nybl to fulfilling the Take-off Stage.

You feel the energy and passion that Noor has in the business.  It for sure has been a challenge.  Today, as Noor said he does not see this as a job or work rather instead an exhilarating fun experience that he looks forward to every day.

Results make a difference: the huge revenue growth, investors coming to him, unsolicited people wanting to join the company, next generation culture, inspired employees, an incredible hiring system, leaders emerging at every level, an adaptive growing organization, a well-structured financial system, linked operational processes, reputation growing faster than marketing and so on.  All this contained in the strategy and forward plans. The key elements in taking off.

Noor’s incredibly lofty goal of becoming a billion-dollar company may appear unrealistic to you, but Noor believes it.  He has done the research on similar companies in the artificial intelligence space and their position. Reaching take off requires lofty goals so I am careful not to dampen his enthusiasm.  He is willing to put the aspiration in print!

Finally, you may feel Noor is taking an early victory lap by thanking everyone who has been a part of nybl reaching Take-off.  This is only one stage in the nybl journey ahead.  Yet, it is crucial one.  For Noor, the present position is a relief in many respects seeing the company take off and his thanks to the many contributors is genuine.  He has been overly kind to me.

Throughout this blog, you should get a reasonable picture of Noor.  Foremost, he is an incredible learner and listener.  Second, Noor does not accept defeat.  His leadership growth has been extremely fun to watch.  And I believe leadership is the key to achieving the Take-off Stage.

Building Trust at Work – Improving Team Results

Trust is a critical element in our everyday lives. The relationships we enter are centered on trust. Whether we are going to work, shopping online, or meeting a stranger, trust becomes the yardstick for how far that relationship may go.

For those of you in a significant relationship with a life partner, trust means everything to that relationship. Break the trust and the relationship bond shrivels and dies.

Bob Burg is famous for coining the phrase “know, like and trust (KLT).” His teaching says we only do business with people we know, like and trust. It’s a progression of experience that gets us over the goal line. You visit each of the three stages before you are ready to make the bigger commitments.

The same is true at work. We spend most of our waking hours dedicated to work. Trust in the workplace should be a vital part of success and reward. Yet managers seldom focus on building trust to build a great team. Instead, they focus on the tasks at hand. They agonize over process and procedure to get things done.

Yet employees struggle to perform at the higher levels of success.

If I can’t trust my boss, why should I give much effort to the task? A low or no trust situation is like meeting the clerk at the convenience store. I don’t have much vested in that transaction. I give the clerk my money to buy my gas or pack of gum. If I watch them put the money in the cash register…end of relationship. It doesn’t require a high level of trust.

However, when I take a job, I expect a lot more in the way of trust from the boss. He/she needs to drive that train. They need to be the ones demonstrating how trust is going to work in that situation. Once I can determine the level of trust I am going to get (remember know, like, and trust), then I begin opening up my trust bank to give back.

By the way. The whole notion of trust is just like a bank account. Deposits must be made for funds to be available from which you can spend. I must get trust to give trust.

But as a leader, that model shifts in a big way. YOU must be the one making the deposits in your people. Show them trust and confidence, then they will begin to pay it back.

join our team graphic

The Trust Gap

Trust is never mentioned by my coaching clients as a ‘top of the list’ goal. Often, they have been introduced to leadership frameworks that are intended to build a certain leadership culture or change an old one. They engage me for helping direct those leadership development efforts.

With the focus on conceptual principles, leaders forget the value of simply building trust. When we start doing the coaching work, we inevitably run head-long into the issue of low trust.

They acknowledge a sense of no trust, yet they are stuck when challenged to think about ways to build better trust.

Talking about trust gives way to more frustration about how to get there. After all, think about how you chose your spouse (if you have one). Was there a specific, tangible set of criteria or did you just ‘know.’?

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

That is why I like the Team Trust Model as the answer for practical and tactical ways to build trust. Since the model is really a process of logical thought about the dynamics of how trust can be built, a leader can craft a methodical and measurable system for gaining better trust within the team.

team trust model

Building trust is a process to answer a list of key questions. The questions might be obvious or subtle, but they are questions, nonetheless.

When the leader effectively and systematically answers all of the questions his/her team may have, then trust begins to evolve. The process naturally fits the KLT method. As employees, the more we know about the work team, the better we are equipped to like what we’re about. If we like it, then we can begin trusting it.

At the Core

The Team Trust Model is here to promote trust at work. It does so by inspiring people to invest their discretionary effort. Every employee comes to work with a certain capacity to deliver. However, this overall capacity is divided into segments. The first, and most basic level, is the bare minimum. We agree to deliver our bare minimum effort to keep from getting fired.

It’s the lowest of effort expended. It keeps things moving at an acceptable pace. But it won’t set records.

Discretionary effort, on the other hand, is that extra effort; the 110%. Employees all have the ability to spend this extra. The question is whether they want to.

For leaders, the challenge is to inspire folks to do that on a regular basis. Come to work and give the extra all the time.

When the team setting is right, people never question the willingness to give it all.

A New Series

The preceding message is the start of a series of articles presenting the dynamics and power of the Team Trust Model. Over the next few weeks, I will be diving deeper into this approach for practical and tactical ways to improve your team’s performance while building a more rewarding work experience.

This article first appeared at If you found the content helpful, please share it with your social media contacts.

advisory board

The People Side of Leadership

In a previous blog on September 15, 2020, we looked at my 3 P Leadership Framework: People, Planning, and Performance. This blog goes more in-depth on the People side.

I am asked by small business owners for the best current leadership books to read that are concise and insightful. That is a good question and I say something like John Maxwell’s LEADERSHIFT The Essential Changes Every Leader Must Embrace. Given the accelerating pace of change in today’s business world, Maxwell does offer real insight.

In giving this response, I often think how much foundational insights are lost that really ground a person becoming a good if not great leader. Many key thoughts on leadership were not created these past couple years. Here are some key foundational insights that I think matter:

Beliefs in People matter

I believe modern leadership theory really began with Douglas Mc Gregor’s 1960 book entitled The Human Side of Enterprise in which he laid out two opposing theories on perceiving and motivating employees.

In simple terms, in Theory X the manager/leader believes employees have little desire for work other than the paycheck.  In Theory Y, people are internally motivated requiring less direction and control. In my opinion, these beliefs can become self-fulfilling prophecies and lead to different leadership styles. 

With Theory X assumptions of People, leaders will tend to be autocratic telling people what to do with little discretion.  Those with Theory Y beliefs will tend to give employees more freedom and bring them into the decision-making process.

We talked about beliefs as part of Persuasion in my 4 Inner Ps of Leadership blog of October 30, 2020. Clearly this belief around people’s internal motivation is critical to a successful relationship with your employees.

Leadership styles matter

Researchers picked up on the idea of different leadership styles.  Rensis Likert found four different styles whose titles accurately explain the approach: Exploitative Authoritative, Benevolent Authoritative, Consultative System, and Participative System. 

The punch line is the Performance of the organizations went from Exploitative Authoritative being the worst improving up the scale with the Participative System being the best.  His book The Human Organization published in 1967 still sits in my library.

Also, in the 1960s, Blake and Mouton published their Managerial Grid or better said Leadership Grid with two key dimensions: Concern for People and Concern for Results (i.e. Performance).  So, there you have two of the 3 Ps.  A style that was low on both dimensions, called impoverished management brings disharmony, disorganization, and dissatisfaction.  

In their lingo, the Produce or Perish style focusing high on results but low on concern for people breeds an authoritarian.  The high on concern for people and low on concern for results is labeled Country Club Management and as expected, produces low results with lack of direction and control.  

Interestingly, taking a Middle of the Road approach ends up with only mediocre performance.  The best, which they described as the Team Management having a high concern for both People and Performance, has a leader with a Theory Y belief and participative style- no surprise.

As we discussed in the recent blog on the 4 Inner Ps of Leadership, leadership style as part of your Personality has a significant impact.  Know your style and how you are relating to your People.

Trust matters

We described in my earlier blog on the 3 Ps of Leadership the Zenger and Folkman’s leadership model of a tent.  Character was described as the pole that holds up the tent of the other four stakes: personal capability, focus on results, leading organizational change, and interpersonal relationships. It is the centerpiece.

As Warren Bennis, one of the great leadership thinkers once said, “real leaders, and people of strong character, generate and sustain trust.” There are many elements that build trust such as doing what you say you are going to do.

In other words, People can count on you. On the People side, showing respect and listening goes a long way. Lots more could be said on character and trust, but you can generally see it and feel it when observing someone’s behaviors and actions.

Back on the Inner 4 Ps of Leadership, Persuasions have a fundamental impact on your interpersonal relationships.  If you lack a strong moral compass, People will be extremely cautious on what you ask them to do and why. As highlighted in the blog, Personal Purpose can be a guidepost in building your character.

People’s needs matter

In my psychology class, we discussed Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, one of the most influential models for me in understanding People.  You probably have heard of his theory that there are five levels of needs beginning with physiological (i.e. surviving) followed by safety, love and belonging (social), esteem or ego, and self-actualization. 

People move up this hierarchy and are motivated by the level they have reached.  If they are driven back down, they are demotivated.

Herzberg outlined this back in 1959 (in his Two Factor Theory of Motivation) as Hygiene factors such as pay, company policies, fringe benefits, physical working conditions, status, and interpersonal relations. 

In these hygiene factors you can become dissatisfied, but they are not big motivators.  He saw motivational factors as recognition, sense of achievement, growth and promotional opportunity, responsibility, and meaningfulness of the work. Even sixty years later, Herzberg had a lot of insight into what needs motivate People.

Back to Maslow, in my opinion as a society here in the United States we have generally risen to the level of ego needs.  As some say, we are in the “me” generation.  People want a job experience tailored for them and their desires.  A hundred years ago they primarily just wanted a job. Some would argue that People driven by self-actualization are emerging.  They can provide powerful results if your offering fits their needs.

There are a couple dimensions of the 4 Inner Ps of Leadership that support understanding your Peoples’ needs.  In the former blog, we discussed under Persuasions the importance of understanding others’ perspectives that drive their behavior. Then your leadership skills come into play.

In Proficiencies, strengths in Rath and Conchie’s domains of Influencing and Relationship Building not only help you understand others needs but can help you in addressing them.  Ultimately, that will lead to value propositions.

Value Propositions matter

In my book, Develop a Leadership Plan: Become a Great Leader I advocate that value propositions are needed for all your key stakeholders.  Of course, we all recognize the need for an impactful value proposition to attract customers.  The same can be said of your employees and leadership team. What do you offer that makes them want to work for you and your company?  How does that compare to your competition?

For an organization, I see value propositions as layered.  At the highest level, what is your value proposition for the whole organization?  This will include bigger picture ideas such as vision but also the values, empowerment, and other hygiene and motivational factors that People can expect. 

Then, at the individual level, what is your value proposition for specific people? How do you get the best that People can provide, and the organization needs? These tailorings will generally fit into Herzberg’s motivational factors with recognition, sense of achievement, growth and promotional opportunity, and the meaningfulness of work.

Do not forget their participation in decision making and engaging in the direction and vision of the business.

Depending on the size of the organization, there may need to be mid-level value propositions.   These are specific offerings for different types of work groups.

Incidentally, John Maxwell does a great job talking about leaders adding value in his book on LEADERSHIFT.

Bottom line, as a small business owner/CEO you are the boss, but to become really successful you will need to become a leader.  Think about People first.  Think about what matters to them.  In Servant Leadership vernacular, how can you serve them first such that it makes them want to follow you on a common purpose.  In a future blog, we will provide some Reflections on Servant Leadership.

Contributed by Lane Sloan, former Shell CFO and Silver Fox Advisor.

Entrepreneurs-Agents of Renewal

Small business has a significant role in the economy. Owners and entrepreneurs create jobs, provide goods and services, and serve special niches that help round out our economic vitality. The health and well-being of small businesses is a critical element of our culture.

Let’s discuss this in more detail. This blog is a little “academic” to drive home the importance of entrepreneurs and small businesses to our economic progress.

Without the renewal that entrepreneurs and small businesses provide, economic stagnation will eventually result.

Capitalism provides the incentives for entrepreneurs and small businesses to bring about this renewal process.

Capitalism provides opportunity to pursue self interest

Back in the 1700s, the industrial revolution fueled the rise of capitalism and the eventual demise of European feudal systems.  The key driver was machine technology that transformed the way society functioned from transportation, to agricultural production, to consumable and hard goods production, etc.  

Fortuitously, Adam Smith recognized that underpinning the freedom to pursue one’s self-interest in a capitalistic system overall delivers the best possible social outcomes through his concept of “an invisible hand.”

A main ingredient for a productive society is also having rules of law that facilitate interactions within the economic and societal eco-system.  These rules need to fit the evolution of economic entities.

When entities like Standard Oil grew so enormous to have monopoly power on petroleum markets then anti-trust rules were enacted.  Boundaries were put on this economic freedom.

Facts of Life

Now living systems including economic entities follow S shape curves where there is a slower early learning period followed by steep growth which eventually slows and ultimately takes a downturn and dies. 

What happens in economic entities causing them to die or be absorbed into another entity?

One reason is the natural competitive process that occurs in a capitalistic system.  Another reason results from the also natural bureaucratic growth where over time entities shift their focus to internal structures becoming more rigid in their ideas rather than learning the evolving dynamics in the external market landscape.

Capitalism creates renewal through entrepreneurship

We often hear of Adam Smith’s invisible hand, but the other characteristic that makes capitalism such a strong economic system was described by Joseph Schumpeter “Theory of Economic Development.” 

In short, he believed that entrepreneurs introduce new products and services revitalizing markets and enabling continuing growth, in Schumpeter vernacular “creative destruction.”

Thus, entrepreneurs disrupt through innovation the “circular flow” of entrenched bureaucratic entities following their routines. Schumpeter was a product of the great depression and the massive economic downturn.

He felt that ultimately capitalism would self-destruct as the political strata become dominated by those undermining the capitalistic framework of renewal.  His view was that socialism would be the ultimate successor.

Pace of change is accelerating

My view is that Schumpeter did not recognize that the pace of change would continue to increase.  The information revolution is just another form of the industrial revolution where technology revolutionizes information to being both global and individual at the same time. 

This has also enabled a discontinuity in the delivery of goods through the Amazon’s of this world. The nanotech or bio-tech revolution through advances in technology is making the change much more chaotic.  We find the very foundations of our beliefs in how the world works being reworked. 

Dominant entities are moving up the S curve much more rapidly as change accelerates the dominance shifts with the emergence of new concepts and technologies.  In the information revolution, IBM was the early dominant player. Their foray was more in the industrial form with its emphasis on hardware. They were dethroned by the software side through Microsoft. who has now lost its preeminence to Google and its follow-ons that have shifted the focus of information power and flow directly to the consumer.

The accelerating and chaotic pace of change will only enhance the renewal process under capitalism. On occasion, there will need to be interventions with tools such as anti-trust should the dominance of some entities become too great in their marketplace. 

This dominance can occur quite quickly and political systems which are more bureaucratic will have difficulty in adjusting.  Nevertheless, the ongoing technological developments will transform the dynamics over time.

Socialism stifles renewal

With socialism, the means of production, distribution, and exchange are owned or highly regulated by the community (i.e. government) not by private individuals. This spreads the economic wealth through political intervention and further enhances the bureaucratic nature of the political and economic systems stifling the renewal process. 

Back to S shape curves, the capitalistic system relies on building new S shape curves to be overlaid on top of the current S extending the economic and societal growth. Socialism largely relies on the condition of the current S curve when implemented which leads to much faster stagnation.

Helping entrepreneurs succeed

This is a backdrop to the importance of the entrepreneur within a capitalistic system that drives our economic growth.  Here in the United States, small business added almost 2 million new jobs in 2018. 

At that time there were about 30 million small businesses accounting for not quite half the private employment of the United States.  Small businesses truly are the economic engine of our economy of this the largest economy in the world.

Thus, a fundamental question is how can we help small businesses accelerate their growth and avoid a premature death on their S curve? In this world of accelerating change, understanding the growth stages of a small business is exceedingly helpful for the entrepreneur hoping to become a successful enterprise.

If I have your interest, come back to future blogs that describe my four-stage growth model.  It should add greatly to your understanding of the key elements in the different stages of growth for small businesses.

Lane Sloan

COVID Fatigue is Real!

The United States is in a high state of uncertainty where the future is concerned. We’re a nation that wants our news, meals, and money right now. Once a big event happens, we are all consumed with Twitter, Facebook, and news outlets for a few days or even weeks. And then we move on.

We’re not able to move on from COVID, at least not yet. We’re still wearing masks, social distancing, working from home, dealing with childcare, loneliness, financial, and mental issues. We drag on wondering when this will be over.

I spoke with a group of CEOs recently that are highly concerned with employee fatigue. They’re seeing a rise in employee issues and considerable productivity drop off. Words of encouragement are falling on deaf ears when the actions following are not personal. “Just do your job” or “find a way” is not cutting it.

Each person is wired differently. How they act under fatigue may be quite different than normal circumstances and not easily recognizable.

If you want to combat COVID fatigue, you have to meet your employees where they are. Get personal.

team meeting

Here are some ideas for you to think about that I’ve heard were effective:

Conduct 30-minute discussions with staff daily. One on one meetings may not be doable but small group calls can be. Ask how are they doing at home, how are the spouse and kids, is there anything impeding their work that you could help with?

Proactively identify those at risk. If you already have a personality assessment on employees, dust them off. If not, consider getting one. Look for things like their Social Energy scores, or Restlessness, or Organizational needs.

Employee Surveys– Do a formal and confidential survey and get a pulse. Results may not be specific, but it can be a good starting point.

Professional Counseling – Many insurance companies offer some form of counseling for mental challenges. Inquire about eligibility through the Employment Assistance Option or consider purchasing an option for the employees. Whatever you do, make sure the employees know it is confidential.

No one is certain when the risk with the pandemic will finally subside. We should expect COVID fatigue to get worse before it gets better.

Get on top of it with your employees now. It is real.

If you need further assistance, send us a note through

Electrical manufacturing

Case Study: Manufacturer Reaches $10.0 Million Revenue Objective


The Company is a five million dollar Houston-based manufacturer of toroidal transformers for specialized electrical equipment applications. Their markets are medical, telecommunications, audio-video, computer and lighting industries (300 customers). The higher price ($85 average) and manufacturing complexity of toroidal transformers dictated that the Company work with their OEM customers in the custom design and manufacture of these components. The Company was profitable but wanted to grow to $10.0 million in revenue in three years. 


The problem was that attaining this $10.0 million revenue objective rested with the President and a senior sales manager, both lacking the experience and time to “run the business” and to grow it. The marketing problem was that the Company could not effectively identify, sell and service new applications. 


The Silver Fox Advisor convinced the President to shift responsibility and accountability for profitable sales growth to the sales manager. The sales manager then hired and trained more Company sales engineers and independent field representatives. In addition, the Silver Fox Advisor recommended an outside (research, marketing, planning and advertising) firm to define, quantify and communicate with new target markets. 


The result has been that with new prospect industries, product applications, and a successful sales organization, the Company has reached its $10.0 million revenue goal. An economic side benefit has been a simplified product mix with far better manufacturing productivity. 

Case Study: The Business Start That Didn’t

Advice from an experienced Silver Fox Advisor concerning what not to do is as valuable as guidance and suggestions on what should be done!!


Four people who knew each other well (a saleswoman, a commercial artist, a copywriter, and a physical fitness instructor) shared a common interest in their own physical fitness. They wanted to capitalize on the current trend toward health and fitness by building and operating a facility to function as a Ropes Course. They were located in a large city with many companies and people as prospective customers. A very favorable location was available but satisfactory terms were not yet worked out. All were to be equal partners. Adequate capital was available from outside investors. A general division of responsibility for operating functions was agreed to between the four potential Owners. 


The challenge was to initiate a business plan and begin operations as quickly as practicable. 


As planning and negotiations for location and equipment continued, two Silver Fox Advisors were called in. Although there was much discussion, no practical or complete business plan ever came together. It soon became apparent that none of the individuals, other than the fitness instructor, was planning to quit their other job to devote full time to this venture. And to him, it was just another job, not an entrepreneurial opportunity. 


The Silver Fox Advisors were able to convince the four potential Owners of the new Start-up Company that, on the basis of their overall commitment, the operation would never succeed. Although much time was spent in arriving at this conclusion, very little of the potential Owners’ money was spent, and no investor money was accepted or wasted. A business disaster was avoided!