Study hall

By: 
Feb. 3, 2017

In the crowded field of leadership development, a pair of Manatee County entrepreneurs discovered a new way to deliver top-flight management advice.

It's called the Leadership Accelerator. It's a yearlong program, with a three-hour class the first Tuesday of each month, designed to provide high-level, interactive experiences for CEOs, family business heirs and other leaders.

Founded by Bradenton-based business coach and leadership author Doug Van Dyke, with clients nationwide, the Leadership Accelerator completed its first year in December. Year two kicked off in January.

“There's nothing quite like this in the area,” says Van Dyke, who also runs Leadership Simplified. “It seems to really resonate with people.”

One of the keys to the Leadership Accelerator, and the buzz it's generated among Sarasota-Manatee business leaders, is the use of detailed case studies in each class. Van Dyke passes out the studies and the class breaks out into groups, with access to glass boards to map out thoughts.

“Like any good leader, they immediately go into solution mode,” says Michael Corley, a co-facilitator and Leadership Accelerator teacher with Van Dyke. “Which means they miss a lot.”
Each case study and monthly sessions are themed. The studies resonate, says Van Dyke, because each one is multilayered. “These are complicated lessons,” he says. “Not everyone is an angel or a villain. Nothing is formulaic.”

Van Dyke teaches the class along with his friend Corley, a leadership consultant who has worked with nonprofits and health care and insurance companies. Corley has been an executive in the region for nearly 15 years, and has struggled to find a reasonably priced leadership group that went deeper than surface level.

Van Dyke and Corley also sought something different than what everyone else does. “As we talked to different leaders about this,” says Corley, “they said they had been through everything else in leadership.”

The 2016 Leadership Accelerator class had six participants, and the 2017 class, which started Jan. 3, also had six people. Van Dyke says he hopes to have up to 12 people sign up for 2018, so there can be two classes.

The Leadership Accelerator costs $5,000 for the year. That's in the middle for leadership classes, says Bradenton attorney Jonathan Fleece, who participated last year. “I've been through several leadership programs, and this one is outstanding,” says Fleece, managing partner at Blalock Walters. “It's like a mini M.B.A. program.”

Executive Decision
The case studies in Doug Van Dyke's Leadership Accelerator program are complicated messes — a lot like life.

In one, he asks the class to pretend they are Donald. He's a CFO who faces a difficult situation with his firm's IT department, which “has traditionally been a disjointed 10-member group of perceived misfits,” the case study background states. “They possessed a smattering of intelligence, skill and experience, but they are also unfocused and uncommunicative. Don doesn't truly understand what they do and how they do it.”

In an effort to upgrade IT, Donald hires a 12-year U.S. Marine who spent a decade in private industry, Ed, to lead the unit. “Ed's peers found his confidence and apparent discipline engaging,” Van Dyke's backgrounder states.

But after a year with the department in disarray, Donald is at a crossroads.

“Ed seemed like a very intelligent, disciplined, structured, well-read and successful person,” Van Dyke writes. “Yet he appeared unable to create a strategic vision, make sensible personnel changes, build morale in a small department and increase the credibility associated with the IT department.”

Van Dyke asks the class: If you were Don, how long do you give someone to change? What should you do with the IT team?

Most Leadership Accelerator case studies are in similar gray areas, which are commonplace in business. “Sometimes,” Van Dyke says, “it's difficult to get a handle on what's going on.”