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December 2, 2022

Lessons from Disney and other advice from Maine CEOs

Andrea Tetzlaff At the Mainebiz Bangor Forum, from left: Deb Neuman, Michelle Anderson, Deborah Ellwood, Rob Frank, Marie Hansen, Denis St. Peter and Cary Weston.

Leadership styles have changed in the past three years, as CEOs and executive directors look at new ways of communicating with staff members — often by Zoom or text. 

At the Mainebiz Breakfast Forum in Bangor on Thursday, area CEOs and nonprofit leaders offered leadership advice in a "60 ideas in 60 minutes" format. About 120 people attended the event. 

Here are some highlights from the panel, which was moderated by Deb Neuman, president and CEO of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce. 

Advice: "Remember what it's like to be the buyer." —  Cary Weston, president and chief marketing officer at Bangor marketing firm Sutherland Weston.

Weston talked about going through the Disney leadership training program.

One of the first things Disney employees are asked — after, "Where are the restrooms?" — is, "What time does the 3 o'clock parade start?"

"Remember that a lot of the people asking this are stressed-out Dads, so you don't say, '3 o'clock, dummy,'" Weston said. "You tell them it starts at 3 p.m., but you let them know, if they want a cool place on a hot day, stand in front of the ice cream shop at 2:30. You'll be in great place to see the parade and you'll get the AC coming out of the ice cream shop."

Advice: "Work on developing good judgement." — Denis St. Peter, president and CEO at the Bangor-based engineering firm Haley Ward Inc.

"We're not born with good judgement — it takes work," St. Peter told the audience. 

St. Peter said judgement comes out of experience, listening, research, benchmarking and self-assessment "to make the best decisions that affect your business." 

"As leaders, it's something we should commit to," he added.

Advice: "Always ask how people are doing." — Marie Hansen, dean of the College of Business and New England School of Communications, Husson University

She said business and management conversations often overlook a basic element of asking the other person how things are going. 

Hansen offered a related piece of advice: "Listen before offering solutions." Often people just want to be heard or want to talk things through before trying to "fix" a situation. She suggests being aware of that before jumping in with solutions. 

Advice: "Clients as friends ... Clients can and should be friends when appropriate." — Rob Frank, senior principal, chief business development officer, civic and commercial studio director, chief engineer for Bangor-based WBRC. 

Frank stressed the communication that can come out of getting to know your clients. 

"They will tell you about missteps earlier and allow you to make corrections swiftly. They will issue praise and cross-sell your relationship to others as a result." 

Advice: "Let your mission be your North Star." — Deborah Ellwood, CEO and president of Ellsworth-based Maine Community Foundation. 

Ellwood, who joined Maine Community Foundation in July, talked about the need to focus on your mission — and used the phrase, "Stick to your knitting." 

She cited a previous leadership role she had at a nonprofit. The Ford Foundation sought to give the nonprofit a grant of $1 million to do something that was outside of the nonprofit's area of expertise. 

"It just wasn't what we do," she recalled. "I was new in the job, but I knew we just didn't have the resources to take that on. I said 'No,' but we later got tons of support from the Ford Foundation [for other initiatives]." 

Advice: "Lead by example." — Michelle Anderson, president and CEO of Junior Achievement of Maine.

Particularly at nonprofits or small organizations, there are often tasks that leaders of all levels need to jump in on, Anderson said. 

"You may need to fill in on volunteer opportunities or order paper towels. When you're on a small team with limited resources this is important. It also helps build a great culture" by demonstrating to the staff your willingness to pitch in, said Anderson, a recent Mainebiz 40 Under 40 honoree


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