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ACE Blog

Because the mission of ACE is to foster 'Success through Collaboration', the Membership is resolved to promote internal communication and to enable interchange. One effective means to accomplish these objectives is through Blog activity to broaden the audience for thoughts, activities, and successes. 

This forum enables the members to share expertise and learning regarding topics of interest to the consultant community or to call attention to key work and current activities. However, areas of focus and expertise are better displayed in the Member Directory.

  • October 05, 2020 10:16 AM | Allison Bishop

    Starting a business comes with a lot of considerations.  If you have the luxury of having another job while you prepare to join the gig economy, you can – and should - take care of some important items while still collecting a paycheck. 

    Preparing to Take the Leap

    First, building up a cash cushion is critical to get you through those first months of getting your business off the ground.  The alternative is to start off your newfound independent life by incurring debt for your basic needs.  Also important: creating a website and other marketing materials, arranging physical space if necessary, setting up a business bank account and credit card, and figuring out your health insurance.

    Make sure you have a good sense of what your personal monthly cash needs are.  It can be as simple as going through your bank statements and making a list of everything you’ve spent money on for the past few months (maybe going back to your pre-pandemic spending habits).  Understand how you can realistically make enough money through your business to cover at least those basic expenses, and a timeline for when that might happen.  Forecasting your business income in this way can help you to gauge whether you’re on track to meet your goals and help you to estimate how long your savings will last.

    Managing Unpredictable Income

    Once you begin your business, you may be living off of your savings for a while, but at some point you will be making more than you need to cover your living expenses.  If your income fluctuates from month to month, it can be difficult to manage your personal finances.  A simple way to handle this is to set up your finances so that you’re paying yourself a salary.  Figure out how much it costs you to live (for easy math, we’ll say $2,000 per month).  Set up a regular transfer – maybe weekly of $500 or bi-weekly of $1,000 – from your business account into your personal checking.  If you don’t use a separate business bank account, you can deposit your gig earnings into a traditional savings account.   Over time, as long as you’re making more than you need to live on, you will gradually build up a cushion that you can dip into during slow times to keep your personal income smooth and predictable.


    Income taxes are tricky for gig workers.  Often it takes a few years to make positive taxable income, so during those first years you don’t have to worry too much about putting money aside to pay Uncle Sam.  However, once you are making money, make sure that you’re putting enough aside every month to cover your tax liability.  Often a separate bank account specific to taxes is a really good idea, so that money stays safe. 

    It may take a while to perfect the percentage of your gross income that needs to be put aside every month.  You might start with 25-30%, which should cover federal and state taxes.  Depending on your personal situation, including your spouse’s income and withholding, as well as number of children and other income or deductions, the right number for you might be more or less than that. 

    Once you’re making taxable income, you’ll owe self-employment tax of 15.3% - although you can take a deduction of 50% of that.  

    Taxes are a moving target: if you get yourself into a situation where you owe a lot, you have to make more money to pay it off, which means that you’re always incurring new tax debt.  Making the effort early on to stay current with your taxes can save you a lot of stress and heartache down the line.

    Retirement Planning

    Once your business is up and running, and generating a profit, you can turn your thoughts to the future.  You no longer have a 401(k) set up for you, so preparing for retirement is entirely up to you.  At first, a traditional or Roth IRA might be enough (2020 contribution limits are $6,000, plus $1,000 if you’re age 50 or older).  Once you outgrow those accounts, you will have multiple options available to you: a SEP IRA, a SIMPLE IRA, a solo 401(k) – all of these are designed for self-employed individuals or small businesses. 

    Don’t forget to look at your full family picture; if your spouse has a retirement plan through work, make sure you’re taking advantage of that – particularly if there’s an employer match on the table.

    For more on this topic

    See also the November 2, 2020 MaineBiz AskACE column, "How do I prepare myself financially for running a business?"  Allison also presented on this topic at a virtual event for the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce on October 20, 2020, called "What They Didn't Tell You About Starting a Business."

  • August 31, 2020 1:21 PM | Terry Johnson (Administrator)

    Gig workers are independent contractors, typically service providers.  They run the gamut from Uber drivers to freelancers to highly paid professional consultants.  They are paid by the project…. the “gig.”  The Gig Economy is the sum of those contractors, the work they perform, and the businesses that pay them.

    Entrepreneurs are the foundation of the Gig Economy, and when you join you become an entrepreneur. You are starting your own business and becoming a member of the start-up community. You are also an essential contributor to the health of the startup world.

    Remote work and an Economic Downturn Set the Stage for Expanding the Gig Economy

    Before the COVID pandemic, Upwork, a leading digital platform, projected that by 2027 more than half of U.S. workers would be self-employed.  The pandemic added two key drivers to this trend: 1) a pivot to remote work; and 2) an economic downturn.

    Remote work is here to stay. Never have so many employers and employees tooled up for remote work.  According to Dr. Ryan Wallace, Director of the Maine Center for Business and Economic Research at the Muskie School of Public Service, from 2000 to 2016, before COVID, remote work expanded 123% nationwide, compared to 18% for non-remote work. By 2016, more Maine workers worked remotely than worked in the entire forest products industry. As a share of overall in-migrants, in 2018 mid-coast Maine had the highest concentration remote workers than anywhere else in the US, while two other regions in Maine also made the top 20.  As remote strategies post-COVID have succeeded, both employers and employees have warmed to the idea that work can get done outside a traditional workplace.

    Live + Work in Maine, a non-profit initiative designed to increase awareness about Maine career opportunities, has watched this trend carefully and considered its potential to attract talent to Maine and to keep it here.  Director of Engagement, Katie Shorey says “Maine ranks high on things that matter: healthcare, educated workforce, public education, safety.  Talented people with high-level skills have been thrown into the deep end of remote work because of COVID, and they like it.  They find it more efficient, and less stressful. If being close to the office doesn’t matter anymore, they ask themselves why they shouldn’t live where they want to. Maine’s quality of life naturally supports remote work and deepened interest in moving here.

    Gig work makes sense for skilled workers in an uncertain economy. Unemployment numbers are high due to the pandemic. There are more skilled service employees looking for work, willing to accept – even embrace – contract work.  

    Technological innovations allowing employers to pivot to remote work are essential to gig workers’ ability to be in more (virtual) places at a time, for more than one client.  Instead of moving for work, once again placing all eggs in a single employment basket, why not stay put for the quality of life, and take on discrete projects for a larger number of businesses…including businesses outside Maine that have embraced remote workers?

    What does this mean for Maine?

    If remote workers who relocate here already work for out-of-state employers, how does that help Maine employers fill positions?  If they are traditional employees, how can they be members of the Gig Economy? Aside from adding a few employees from away, how does it foster new business?

    If you bring them, they will mingle. Isolation is a challenge in remote work; work may be possible from a distance, but workers continue to crave human connection.  Shorey notes that nearly 100 freelancers and remote employees attended a social networking event for remote workers in Portland last winter. The event was organized by Luke Thomas, Founder of Friday - a South Portland software startup focusing on how remote workers can improve communication.

    Economies are dynamic.  Talent stands out.  Workers change jobs.  Employers lose employees.  All other things being equal, personal connections count in hiring decisions, and personal connections are easier to make….in person.  If talented remote workers come to Maine, it is just a matter of time before they will become known and available to Maine employers.

    They will also develop new businesses.  According to Wallace, it’s a matter of critical mass and proximity.  “When enough talented people are in one place at one time you get ‘knowledge spillover.’ This leads to more opportunities and more new business.”

    When gig workers come to Maine, they will also settle in and raise families which adds future generations to the workforce and entrepreneurial environment, thus providing long-term sustainability.

    Fluidity.  Participation in the gig economy is fluid.  Side hustles abound and may be a wise financial hedge in an economic downturn. Side-hustles evolve into full time self-employment, by themselves, or with a nudge from a declining economy. From an employer’s perspective, in the same way that  “just-in-time” supply strategies save manufacturing costs, independent contractors, hired on a project basis, and free to take on other gigs may make more sense than a full-time hire in a bad economy.

    Start-ups, by necessity, rely on the gig economy. Skilled professionals, available on a contract basis, are essential for launch, and ultimately for scale-up.  It is not financially feasible to hire the skilled talent a start-up needs, but the start-up still needs the talent. The Maine Center for Entrepreneurs relies on its Mentor Network to support its TopGun, Cultivator and MarketShare programs. Members of the network are largely independent consultants, and many go on to a continuing role with the companies they mentor. Technical grants are often available to pay for contracted professional services for promising new companies.


    Gig workers are within seven years of becoming most of the US workforce. Traditional job opportunities have shrunk, and skilled service workers have an incentive to become entrepreneurs. Remote work has long been the norm for talented skilled independents; COVID has altered employer perceptions that physical workplaces are superior, and they have responded by retooling infrastructure to retain skilled employees.  Remote workers are now looking at Maine as a lifestyle choice, adding to a talented pool of potential independents whose knowledge will spill over into new ventures.  Start-ups particularly need access to skills outside of a traditional employment relationship.

    This is an ideal set-up for expanding Maine's Gig Economy.

  • July 28, 2020 3:58 PM | Francis Eberle (Administrator)

    By Dr. Francis Eberle

    July 22, 2020

    Recently I came across a familiar video I had not seen in a while. It has two teams, one in black shirts and the other in white shirts, passing basketballs to each other. As you watch it, you are asked to count the number of passes. Sounds easy, right? If you want to watch the original video, go here.

    After you report how many passes you saw, you are asked if you saw the gorilla. And yes, during the video a gorilla strolls into the middle of the action, faces the camera and thumps his chest, and then walks away. When groups of people watched the video for the first time and were asked if they saw the gorilla, about 50% answered no. I have shown this video to groups and seen the same reaction.

    Two researchers, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, developed this experiment at Harvard University in 1999 while studying unintentional blindness. They did the experiment thousands of times, and half of the people who watched the video did not see the gorilla. This experiment is described in most introductory psychology textbooks and is featured in dozens of museums.

    The experiment reveals how we miss a lot of what goes on around us, though not always intentionally. In fact, most times we don’t know what we are missing. This second point is the most striking. We don’t get the chance to decide if we want to notice everything or not. If you are a fan of detective or police television shows you know that eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable. We miss a lot.

    Paying attention, really paying attention, is critical all the time, but probably more so right now for your team, colleagues, and partners. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, you could walk over to, have lunch, meet for coffee or call team members and colleagues to easily connect with them. If you haven’t noticed just how much the human interaction part of work is different now, you’re not paying attention.

    Being aware that things have changed is different from paying attention to your people because they have changed. And taking the time to learn what has changed, instead of assuming that you know, is paying attention.

    In a recent McKinsey & Company poll, more than 80% of respondents said they would remember companies that did they right thing by their workers around safety and layoffs. At the same time 75% said they wouldn’t forget those businesses that took missteps long after the COVID-19 pandemic is done.

    Harvard Business School professor Hirotaka Takeuchi completed a recent study of Japanese companies based in the Tohoku region where the 2011 tsunami hit that continue to operate today. Despite facing serious financial setbacks from the disaster, many are thriving. One of the reasons was their dedication to responding to the needs of employees and the community first, over business. Pursuing layoffs and other cost-cutting measures were not part of their moral commitment to their people.

    To increase your attention as a leader, there are three things you can do: increase visibility, remove roadblocks and have renewed focus on what is important.

    Increase Visibility. There are often behaviors and actions that go unobserved because of the pace of work. Slow down and make them visible or transparent. If a behavior offends at the worst or is biased at the most subtle, make it visible by asking why, what was the motivation, did you really mean, and how does that make others feel? Build support for good works through recognition. Note those quiet people who don’t speak up but always deliver quality work. Put your people first. Paying attention like this can help increase inclusion and promote quality work and employees.

    Remove Roadblocks. Consider, what is holding people back? Move from a closed mindset where if people don’t deliver then they are somehow not capable, to an open mindset that asks what is the potential and what was in their way. Roadblocks can run the gamut of power positioning, not giving all the information, budgets, or outright blocking. Until you pay attention to the barriers, they will continue to exist and be put up. Some employees in your company will not have access to success because they were not given the opportunity. Paying attention is seeking out the roadblocks to preempt them and not waiting for them to appear.

    Renewed Focus. This is the most basic way to pay attention. Focus in this case is not only narrowing but instead an expansion of what a leader might see including monitoring, accountability, identifying problems, observing, adapting, improving, searching for people’s talents and celebrating milestones. It is also narrowing the focus on the larger goal and not getting distracted by office politics, behaviors or structures. Know the context for each employee. Paying attention is really seeing your people, processes and structures, and noticing how they work to ensure they will accomplish the best for your company.

    The noise around leaders is loud right now and so much seems to be vying for our attention. Internal and external interactions, social media, marketing, newsletters, offers and news are relentless. Paying attention to your people, focusing on what you what to accomplish and helping them get there will help everyone be successful.

    To talk to Dr. Eberle about focus and attention as a leader, email him at

  • May 11, 2020 9:53 AM | Anonymous

    Panel discussion with members of the SPC and ACE.

    We shared what we’re doing to get through the crisis and recommended potential solutions and resources to help you through these tough times.

    How Do I Apply for SBA Loans? The CARES Act made loans available for consultants and solo professionals. Robin Hamilton shows you how to navigate the maze of PPP, EIDL, and other SBA programs so you can apply for economic relief for your business.

    How Can I Use Online Talent Platforms to Find New Clients? – Online services like Catalant and Business Talent Group match consultants with projects. Gina Abudi will show you how she’s found new clients through these platforms and shares her best practices for success.

    How can we manage our reactions to stress-related client demands? Under stress we don't behave as we normally do...and neither do our clients. Join Theresa Peek as she explores this topic during this time of stress. How can I pivot my business focus as the economy changes? The world has changed - and it continues to change.

    How do you pivot amidst the changes to keep your business healthy? Join a conversation with Terry Johnson to discuss innovating your business.

  • March 14, 2020 5:47 PM | Francis Eberle (Administrator)

    I have heard some version of this many times from clients over the years. Leaders often tell me that a team isn’t as effective as they once were, team members don’t want to participate, or they need more cooperation so they can move faster.

    Many leaders forget that teams are fluid. What I mean is they change over time due to variable factors. These can be things like someone joining or leaving the team, projects changing dramatically, tasks becoming routine, fear about job safety due to changing market forces, or more. All of these dynamics impact the people on a team and their performance.

    Teams are more important now than they have been in the past, partly because problems are more complex than they have been in the past. Solving them requires multiple perspectives and experiences.

    Studies of highly effective teams find that appealing to employees around purpose and their role in accomplishing that purpose is more effective to teamwork than other approaches, such as incentives or accountability systems. Not only that, but teams need ongoing support and encouragement when it comes to purpose. People have a tendency to relax or regress if not constantly reminded of their role in making the company work well, according to Andy Johnson, author of Pushing Back Entropy.

    Leaders aren’t immune from this either. Johnson calls this regression entropy, or the natural decline into disorder or lack of energy. If one energy state is left alone without an infusion of new energy, it moves to lower energy states—or more simply put, goes “downhill.” A leader’s job is to help his or her team continue “up the hill” with support, appreciation and acknowledgement for what they are doing to meet the larger company purpose.

    Additional studies from Google, ADP Research and Gallup found that when people on teams are engaged, they are more productive, creative and happier. To engage them, leaders need to guide purpose to accountability—but in a thoughtful way. One negative outgrowth of intense accountability systems is that people may act solely to achieve their performance measures, losing sight of purpose.

    Jack McGuinness wrote about the important features of effective teams and how they optimize collaboration in today’s workplace. He agreed that an important factor was gaining clarity or purpose, as well as being clear about how to integrate that into how people work.

    Doing the foundational work to ensure teams understand purpose can seem like a slow start, but without a strong purpose, frustration, floundering and miscues are more frequent.

    McGuinness also stressed the importance of reinforcing collaboration principles on teams. As team members move into action, what is the behavior they have agreed to? Have they discussed how they will work? McGuinness’ skills for leaders fostering effective team collaboration are:

    • Communication—Be clear, direct, honest and talk often
    • Listening—Demonstrate that you value people and they are important
    • Feedback—Give and receive feedback, and adjust as exchanges occur
    • Compromise—Seek to understand, which means compromise and being humble
    • Dependability—Be accountable to yourself and the team

    While these may not be new, and may seem quite simple, they are hard to do consistently. Actions such as team building days or retreats can help a team learn about each other. Even better, though, is to use these principles weekly so they become part of the way you work. This approach has a longer life span and more impact than one-day events.

    I frequently use these basic principles with leaders and teams. Clients have seen results such as improved communication, reduced workplace conflict, uncovering hidden skills of team members, and overall positivity at work. Since our people are not static beings and will change, we as leaders need to continuously review and refresh our approaches with them.

    To discuss these tips for teams and more, email

  • September 11, 2019 12:12 PM | Carrie Green (Yardley) (Administrator)

    At ACE’s Board orientation last month we took time to get back to first principles and talk about what board membership means at ACE.

    As the lawyer on the board I suppose it was inevitable that I’d be asked to talk about fiduciary duty.  A fiduciary duty is the highest duty imposed by law; it means that as a board member you are in a position of trust and must always place the interest and purpose of the organization before your own.

    Somber stuff.  And much more intimidating than necessary.

    Board members do not need to lie awake at night worried that they might make a mistake and lose the house.  They are not responsible for every loss or mishap if they act reasonably and in good faith. 

    You just need to do three things:

    Stay in Your Lane:  The Duty of Obedience

    The duty of obedience means that Board members must obey applicable law, and the nonprofit’s governing documents.  These are your organization’s rules of the road.

    I am sorry to tell you that this means that you are in for an hour or so of dull reading, but you owe it to your organization. All nonprofits are organized under a state statute, receive tax-exempt status under IRS regulations, and have articles of incorporation and bylaws.

    Why is this important? Tax-exempt nonprofits come in a variety of flavors; there are things they must do and things they cannot do if they want to remain tax-exempt.

    For example, a nonprofit charitable organization’s revenue comes from donations, grants, and program revenue. Its funds must be spent to advance the organization’s mission, usually to provide a public service (e.g. library) or serve a disadvantaged group. (e.g. individuals with disabilities)

    As another example, a nonprofit business membership organization’s revenue comes from dues and the organization’s program revenue. By law it must focus on advancing the business interests of its members.  Chambers of Commerce are good examples of this type of organization, as are trade and professional associations (like ACE).

    To get up to speed, I’d start with the articles and bylaws and read them once. It’s easier if you know what you are looking for.

    Organization Type. This is your first lane marker: The articles and bylaws will tell you what kind of organization you represent.  You should find it in the first paragraph of the bylaws.

    Once you know your organization type, go to Google.  The following searches will turn up a wealth of information: “charitable organization” “business league” “nonprofit membership organization” “mutual benefit corporation.”  For bonus points over-achievers can include their state in a separate search, e.g. “Maine charitable organization.”

    Somewhere at the top of the search results you will also find references to the section of the IRS code governing the organization’s tax-exempt status.  A Google search on the section (e.g. 501(c)(3)) will give you many, many hits.  One of the top 10 will tell you what you need to know about what your organization needs to do (or not do) to maintain its tax-exempt status.

    Back to our examples.  A charitable organization’s donors can deduct donations, a business organization’s donors cannot, but they can deduct business expenses paid to the organization, like dues or sponsorships.  A business organization can lobby, a charitable organization cannot.

    Organization Structure. The second lane marker: Bylaws describe the board, the officers, any standing committees, and meeting, election other voting requirements like quorums.  In a membership organization I’d be particularly careful to pay attention to what issues require membership votes.

    Your organization may have a policy or procedure manual of some kind, and if you are lucky it will be well-indexed.  Whereas the bylaws tend to be skeletal, the manual provides detail on how the organization performs its day-to-day activities. Read it for general familiarity so that you know what it covers and where to look things up. 

     Pay Attention: The Duty of Care

    The duty of care is all about financial and management oversight.

    A well-run organization should provide you with the information you need to oversee its finances, and to determine whether management is doing its job.  The information should include:

    • A plan;
    • A budget;
    • Periodic financial reports, ideally in a standard accounting format; and
    • Progress reports on the plan.

    The documents’ complexity will depend on the size and complexity of your organization, but they are unimaginably important to financial oversight. Donors, members, grantors and beneficiaries look to you to spend the organization money wisely to serve its mission, including spending on management. An organization needs to document what it plans to do, how it plans to pay for it, and measure its spending against the plan.

    If the organization does not regularly report this information to the board, your first duty as a board member may be to insist.

    Not all organizations have staff, but if yours does you should understand the difference between oversight and micromanagement.  Oversight means you approve the budget and its objectives, then measure progress.  Implementation is left to management. Try not to be “one of those” board members.

    Remember Whose Hat You Have on: The Duty of Loyalty

    Membership on a board may be “good for business,” but the benefits are indirect: connections and a reputation for effectiveness and community dedication.  When it comes to direct benefits, you must always, always put the organization’s interest before your own. 

    You cannot wear two hats if you want serve on a board.  For the sake of the organization you must:

    • Be prepared to give up business opportunities for yourself, your business and your family members;
    • Be prepared to recuse yourself from discussions in which you have a personal stake;
    • Be prepared not to use insider information, and particularly not in a way that might hurt the organization; and ultimately
    • Be prepared to resign if you can’t resolve a conflict of interest.  It’s time to take the organization’s hat off.

    Remember that your authority has limits. No matter how laudable your intentions, you are not entitled to go rogue.

    The organization is your client, not the other way around.  Would you broker a deal without a client’s permission?  Would you speak on a client’s behalf without guidance? Would you attach a client’s name to an initiative without checking? 

    There’s another aspect of the duty of loyalty that’s often missed: loyalty to your fellow volunteer board members and to the organization’s staff. Respect their time.  Answer their calls and emails.  Read their reports.  Follow through.

    And relax. You're doing a good thing.

  • June 26, 2019 8:49 AM | Deleted user

    Reconsidering “The Strange Failure of the Educated Elite” by

    Columnist David Brooks in Relation to Emotional Intelligence and Consulting

    For some time I have had a suspicion that the NYT’s Columnist, David Brooks, has been exposed to and even been trained in the leadership model of Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Frequently he has written about the inadequacy of technical and IQ intelligence when it leaves out the human connection, the sense of community, and the concern for others close by and in the larger population.

    This is certainly the case in his opinion piece last year “The Strange Failure of the Educated Elite.” To read the full article, please go to

    Brooks’ initial theme is that over the past generations we have moved from a system based on birth (White, Male, Protestant) to one based on talent. We opened our educational and corporate institutions to an egalitarian, boomer ethos that was socially committed to fairness, social consciousness, and to ending bigotry. And this is good. But Brooks goes on to say:

    “A narrative is emerging. It is that the new meritocratic aristocracy has come to look like every other aristocracy. The members of the educated class use their intellectual, financial, and social advantages to pass down privilege to their children, creating a hereditary elite that is ever more insulated from the rest of society. We need to build a meritocracy that is true to its values, truly open to all. . . But the narrative is insufficient. The real problem with the modern meritocracy can be found in the ideology of meritocracy itself. Meritocracy is a system built on the maximization of individual talent, and that system unwittingly encourages several ruinous beliefs.”

    What I gain from his article is that we have so focused on the individual that we have lost a sense of community. That results in only seeing one’s worth or value to society in relationship to others.

    Here is where I connect Emotional Intelligence with Brooks’ fine opinion piece.  I am listing his five “Ruinous Beliefs” and, in bold, indicating how each belief relates to one of the EQ Competencies (listed in bold).

    David Brooks says that we have developed these ruinous beliefs:

                Exaggerated faith in intelligence - “Today’s educated establishment is still selected on the basis of I.Q.  High IQ correlates with career success but is not the crucial quality required for civic leadership.” An EQ Competency - Emotional self-awareness: the ability to understand our own emotions and their effects on our performance.

                Misplaced faith in autonomy – Our youth are urged to go on . . . “a solitary unencumbered journey through life toward success. If you build a society upon this metaphor you will wind up with a society high in narcissism and low in social connection.” An EQ Competency - Organizational awareness: the ability to read a group’s emotional currents and power relationships, identifying influencers, networks and dynamics.

                Misplaced notion of the self – “If you base a society on a conception of the self that is about achievement, not character, you will wind up with a society that is demoralized; that puts little emphasis on the sorts of moral systems that create harmony within people . . .” An EQ Competency - Empathy: the ability to sense others’ feelings and perspectives, taking an active interest in their concerns and picking up cues to what is being felt and thought.

                Inability to think institutionally – “The current generation sees institutions as things they pass through on the way to individual success.” Thus the work of the institutions such as Congress, educational systems, and yes, the Church, are blind to their social and community responsibility. An EQ Competency - Teamwork: the ability to work with others towards a shared goal; participating actively, sharing responsibility and rewards, and contributing to the capability of the team.

                Misplaced idolization of diversity – “Diversity is a mid-point not an endpoint . . . Diversity for its own sake, without common telos is infinitely centrifugal and leads to social fragmentation.” Thus diversity becomes the focus as a concept and not as a means to a more inclusive society. An EQ Competency - Inspirational leadership: the ability to inspire and guide individuals and groups to get the job done, and to bring out the best in others.

    Brooks concludes with this rather jarring comment: “Those dimwitted, stuck up blue bloods in the old establishment had something we meritocrats lack – a civic consciousness, a sense that we live life embedded in community and nation, and we owe a debt to community and nation, and that the essence of the admirable life is community before self.”

    Is this not what we who strive for “Consulting Expertise” are about in our interaction and work with our clients?

    C. Waite Maclin, M.Div






  • January 08, 2018 3:02 PM | James Milliken

         “News is what I say it is.”

         That was my editor friend Brad, demonstrating the plain-talk part of his straight-up style of management.

         It was a while ago, when the news industry was in one of its periodic fits of self-examination, ignited by public outcry over some now-forgotten issue of what’s news and what isn’t.

         Uncertainty about that definition troubled Brad not at all. He devoted no time to such matters.

         The point of this reminiscence is to introduce Brad as  a model of leadership clarity. You didn’t always agree with Brad or like his way of doing business, but you always  knew where he stood.

         “This is going to be the worst three months of your life,” he’d tell a newly hired staff member. “But if you make it, you’ll know the job.” That was intended to tell you to take  90-day probation period seriously – as Brad himself surely did.

         The daily newspapers of New England eventually became thick with Brad’s graduates. Beginners who survived Brad-style probation didn’t stay long at his paper. They cashed in elsewhere on the tough-love training – other editors with fatter wallets knew what they’d get by hiring these newswise professionals.

         Brad’s assurance in his concept of news grew from his knowledge of his readers’ tastes. He had done his homework. Brad’s paper was stuffed with small-town minutia in an era when most dailies were dropping such material in favor of longer magazine-style studies of metropolitan issues.

         And Brad posted circulation increases as everybody else lost ground.

         His way might not have worked anywhere else . . . but he wasn’t anywhere else. He was in his territory, supremely unaffected by trends and fads that periodically sloshed through the industry. He was local, editing a very local newspaper.

         Brad made it his business to know his business, and he was relentless in his  management of it.

         And that’s what set him apart from every other editor I met in my 30+ years in that business. Others could meet deadlines, and many knew writing, reporting and/or the other specific skills of newsgathering, as did Brad.

         His margin was in his unparalleled ability to organize and lead groups of people in a situation that demanded accuracy, energy and the efficient deployment of curiosity and imagination. He got results.

         He never deviated. His people, once learning his expectations, never had surprise problems with their assertive boss.  

         There was nothing specific to the news business in all that. Brad’s management essentials were universal, and we all could learn them – whatever our specialty or profession – by doing what Brad did.     

         His highest-level skills were not core practices of news. Any manager is only as good as her/his ability to achieve high productivity through the work of other people.


         Brad’s gruff manner actually was the initial act in sorting out those who could handle news reporting from those who couldn’t.

         Any kid intimidated or put off by a blunt introduction to his/her new boss would have struggled in workaday conversations with small-town cops and politicians. Likewise if your self-confidence couldn’t sustain the prospect to being on trial for three months.

         But Brad’s set of management skills was much broader than just that.

         He was a good teacher and a thoughtful counselor. Once the ground rules were unmistakably established, the way was clear for introducing the how-to stuff, and that’s what Brad did.

         I’ve known other managers who would grump, “I didn’t take this job to be a handholder.”

         Of course you didn’t. But if you can’t educate your people in ways that really help, you don’t have the capacity to contribute to their professional growth.

         They depend upon your leadership. You must know what they need, and you must give it to them. Withholding what you know guarantees you’ll always have a ready supply of inadequate staff people to complain about.

         You won’t develop the quality group output you’re being paid to produce.


         Brad didn’t lean on his senior management or his peers and associates. If they all had known what Brad knew, management would be significantly better, and not just in newspapers.

          Of course, Brad made sure his owner knew and approved of what he was doing. Brad was confident, but not crazy. In his case, the boss was very happy and the relationship was excellent.

         Brad’s thorough homework included knowing the chosen strategies and direction of his senior management, and he stuck with them. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have gone to work there.

         Brad’s attitude toward the editors of other papers was friendly and positive, but his philosophy and opinions were his own.

         Brad was liked and respected. And relentless.


     Question: How do you balance empathy and certainty in your relationships?


    SEE ALSO: Put Me in, Coach: Role vs. Soul

  • June 02, 2017 1:31 PM | Deleted user

    When considering cooperating with your competition,  there is a natural tendency to resist.  In many instances those relationships can be beneficial and can lead to business growth,  as well as flexibility to take on different work and improving your reputation.

    An engineering manager recently rehired a project engineer who worked for his company in the recent past. Shortly after the original hire, the manager told him that their work backlog was insufficient for sustaining their group. Based on tenure, his position would likely be eliminated. Out of respect for their relationship,  the manager called a competing engineering firm, with whom he had an established relationship, to let him know about the project engineer’s situation. The manager described the situation and shared the project managers’ resume, along with a strong endorsement.

    Keeping in good standing with your competition just makes good sense. The sudden turn of business wasn’t the fault of the manager, and the project engineer appreciated the willingness of the manager to make the introduction. Referrals  and recommendations to a competitor are great examples of how collaboration can benefit everyone who is part of a business community.  With the changing needs of the marketplace, your competition may exchange employees with your company on a regular basis.  In Maine, we see this happen frequently.

    – – –

    Yacht manufacturing is a business that would seem not to be affected by the fluctuations in the economy, but that is not the case. Layoffs were a part of the companies’ culture to adjust with their level of business. This is common with most manufacturing firms but nevertheless damaging to their reputation. Since 2008, one particular company has been on a tear with a  30% increase in orders  from last year.  The business is very labor-intensive, so skilled tradesman/craftsman are critical to the success of the organization.

    Five years ago, the company hired a new General Manager , one who has struggled for the last 3 years to find the level of talent necessary to meet the demands of their growth.  This past year, his focus shifted. Along with tapping the local technical trade colleges for talent, he started speaking with his competition to ask them about establishing an alliance by providing their shops with overage work if they have the capacity.

    The hope is that it would minimize the need to bring in more people and would require training and on-boarding resources only to be released in a 2-3 year time-frame, when their workload leveled off.  If they could stem this continual hiring influx, they can concentrate on developing their core competencies;  processes/lean optimization, materials enhancements, leadership skills, product development/brand development. By developing a  sub-contractor workforce with the competition,  they  hope to develop a stronger client focus and reduce the negative impacts that are associated with layoffs.

    – – –

    Liam Holt is a  recent owner of a machine shop on the 495 hub of Massachusetts. Having been in the business for over 20 years for 8 different employers in the industry, he knows all the machine shop owners in the area.

    “It’s very competitive but also supportive,” Holt explains. “People lend tools and give advice freely [whenever someone] encounters a problem.  It’s a favor bank that you help your local shops, because you never know when you will be in need of help.  The ultimate respect is when your competition recommends you on a job”

    Recommending your competition happens in business all the time.  Your ability to accept work depends on many factors, including current workload, logistics, or willingness to undertake an all-or-nothing project. If you can best serve an existing customer by referring a better suited competitor,  it speaks volumes for your understanding that your customers needs come first.

    Selecting a Competition Partner

    When considering business partners, there has to be potential where both businesses benefit by working cooperatively. Trust and understanding are critical for determining consideration. When you refer a business or recommend a person, you take ownership in being a part of the process, good or bad.  There is risk associated with taking on any job, but when you recommend a business that you don’t fully know, that’s using bad judgement. Before you refer someone, you must know and trust them implicitly. Do they have the same values/business ethics? Do they stand by their product or service? Are they known as a company that overstates and under delivers? Or vice versa? Do they conduct themselves in a nonprofessional manner?

    As you get acquainted with a prospective partner, be sure to speak with a few people/customers who know and/or have used their service. After making your choice,  collaborate on smaller projects that would minimize risk for damaging your reputation. When there is a deliverable involved, be sure to have periodic reviews for measuring performance for both parties for quality and customer satisfaction considerations.

    Opportunities to Partner 

    In the spirit of cooperation, here are comments from fellow ACE Member Doug Packard’s Coopetition article from Mainebiz May 30, 2011, about selecting a partner competitor.

    The extent to which you partner with a competitor can take many forms. You may decide to rely on a range of partnerships, depending on the competitor and the type of customer engagement, such as:

     Referral system: Both businesses inform each other of opportunities that the other can handle more efficiently in return for an agreed-upon referral fee. To work well, both firms must refer business to each other on a regular basis.

    – Sub-contractor relationship: Depending on the situation, the sub-contractor can represent the originating firm or themselves. The originating company invoices the customer and handles project management while the sub-contractor takes on particular tasks or skill requirements.

    – Joint project partnership: Both firms work directly with the customer, and each invoices the customer for work performed. But the two firms also work closely in supporting the customer and collaborating on the project.

    Developing New Partnerships

    Getting comfortable with new partners can be daunting, but it can also help you to grow. Establishing a relationship with a trusted competitor can lead to discovery, awareness, or information that wasn’t known previously. Keep an open mind for fostering  competitive relationships, since it can lead to a better bigger-picture understanding.

    In my friend’s words: “Many business leaders may not be ready to take the coopetition step. But those who are successful over the long run usually earn a reputation for thinking of customers’ interests first, and coopetition is one of the best ways to demonstrate that. There are few secrets you need to worry about protecting from competitors, because business success usually comes down to relationships and execution. If you do both well and take care of customers, you will succeed. Try developing a matrix of your products and services by industry and geography to see if there aren’t some opportunities to accelerate success with a coopetition strategy.”

    – – –

  • April 12, 2017 3:36 PM | Anonymous

    April 7, 2017

    Bland Marketing – Don’t let your brand lose focus



    There was a time not long ago when BRAND implied a highly focused strategic basis for what a company promised the public - what it stood for. The brand was the ultimate competitive advantage, and marketing the brand was a full-time job. These days, more and more it seems to me that brand marketing has become bland marketing - undifferentiated, me-too and dressed up in the latest designer look & feel.

    It amounts to brand blasphemy perpetrated on one’s own business. It’s not fair to the consumer or the company. But in these difficult economic times, unfortunately, too many companies settle for expediency rather than strategy.
    Instead of engaging and earning the trust of consumers bland marketing triggers suspicion and ire, which becomes the standard consumer posture.

    Understanding why this is happening is pretty simple. Most marketers just don’t do the hard work of identifying their company’s true raison d'être, assuming they have one. They are pressed for results so they settle for an idea that feels like a USP and the moment. I’ve seen lots of examples of one brand annexing a competitor’s brand, adding a slightly different spin (hey, if it’s working for them, it can work for us!). The resulting marketing is uninspired, un-motivating: bland marketing.

    Let me be clear, there are many, many, many great brands out there. They are great because at the core they stand for something important to the consumer and the company. They represent value; they deliver on a promise that is important to the consumer and that engenders trust and allegiance. Internally, that promise drives the actions of the company. Great brands are nurtured continually by everyone in the organization. It’s hard work.

    Bland marketers need to pay attention to and learn from the greats.

    Creating a brand is hard work. Creating a successful brand is hard work, continually.

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