Teaching corporate leaders to lead

A conversation with Training Solutions Inc. owner Michael Ferraro

Michael Ferraro was a corporate trainer at Woodward and Lothrop when
the Washington department store went out of business in 1995. He used the
opportunity to open his own company, Training Solutions Inc., in Chantilly,
Va., which teaches communications, sales, customer service and leadership
skills to front-line employees, supervisors and senior executives. Courses are
built around stress management, listening skills, performance management,
diversity training and team building. Ferraro recently spoke with Associate
Editor David Hubler.

Q: How do you coach a senior executive,
who presumably has had a lot
of experience managing people?

Ferraro: A lot of our senior executive
clients will not attend a formal
class. They say they haven't the time,
and they just won't go. So we do
individual 360 [degree] assessments,
which evaluate an executive's
management skills based on a questionnaire
that at least 12 colleagues
and company officials fill out. The
accumulated report gives us a pretty
good idea of what's happening
around those client executives. We ... then come up with a personalized
coaching program for them.

Q: How do you work with executives who
don't want to take the time to learn?

Ferraro: We work with them once a month,
sometimes twice, for a couple of hours each
time, face to face in the office or outside or
on the phone, so it becomes an ongoing
relationship. We give them homework and
techniques to try.

Q: Have you had to alter your instruction
for corporate executives when it comes to
working with federal contractors?

Ferraro: There are some nuances in the
[information technology] arena because of
the work government contractors have to do.
For example, some contractors require their
employees to work at the customer's site, so
there is the issue of a virtual manager. In such
cases, performance management must be
done at a distance.

Q: Do senior-level executives exhibit certain
characteristics not found at lower levels?

Ferraro: A lot of senior managers are disorganized,
and I'm not sure why that is. A lot of
them are very reactionary ... instead of being
proactive and setting the agenda for what needs
to get done. There are some senior executives I
work with who start the week with 95 percent of
their time already booked. You can't run
your business that way. I try to get them to
manage their schedule so that they don't
block out all their time but instead leave
time open to handle emergencies. We
advise them to schedule about 60 percent
of their time with important things, and
then the other 40 percent should be management
by walking around [to] see what's
going on in the business.

Q: Isn't it harder for, say, the chief executive
of Lockheed Martin to walk around
than for the owner of a small company?

Ferraro: Those guys walk around a
little more because they feel it's their
niche. But even then, when you get the
company to a certain place and
hire senior executives, those
are the folks who don't walk
around. It may be someone else's
company, but if you're the No. 2
guy, you've got to get down
there, too. Employees need to
build a relationship with you.

Q: What is your best advice?

Ferraro: Build and sustain a good team
around you and don't try to build it with a
bunch of yes-people. Bring in a diverse
mind-set and people who will challenge you
at times.

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