Better CEOs, better human beings

Lessons learned from TEC

Over the course of my 21 years as a TEC chair, I participated in more than 6,000 member-to-chair sessions we refer to as “one-on-ones.”

I heard more than 300 presentations by nationally recognized TEC resource specialists. I facilitated more than 600 TEC meetings where we tackled countless senior leadership issues.

Now that my career has somewhat unexpectedly placed me back in a corporate leadership position, I have a few thoughts on the model and the process that was designed to help CEOs run their businesses more effectively and have better lives. My first thought is “it works.”

I was able to re-enter business with a toolbox stocked with best practices gleaned from members and resource specialists. I saw the problems people were having running their businesses, and the solutions suggested by their TEC groups. I saw ideas that worked and those that failed.

Here are some highlights from my TEC experience:

  • A member excitedly joins his TEC meeting and wants to share something he’s just learned. It’s called the Internet. He suggests his fellow members get on board. What had largely been an academic and military application to date has the potential to be significant to business. The year is 1994.
  • TEC resource specialist Ole Carlson is known for taking the mystery out of strategic planning.  He suggests it’s simply the most attractive route between where you are and where you want to go. Expect a few mid-course adjustments along the way.
    Best piece of advice: When riding a dead horse, get off.
  • Kraig Kramers was TEC Speaker of the Year in 2005. Kraig authored a marvelous handbook for business leaders called “CEO Tools: The Nuts-N-Bolts for Every Manager’s Success.” He introduced thousands of TEC members to invaluable tools such as trailing 12-month totals and averages.
    Best advice: Buy his book.
  • James Newton, trainer of trainers, may have done the most across the entire spectrum to help enhance the lives of our members. Newton’s views on addictive behavior states, personal mastery and cumulative long-term stress helped members lead better lives, I am sure.
    Best quotation: “We were recruiting CEOs (to be members) and a bunch of human beings showed up.”
  • Jim Cederna, a local treasure, brought his toolbox to TEC as well. He taught members how to measure trust and team performance within organizations. He included a process for continuous improvement, as well.
    Best piece of advice: Get rid of the annual performance review. Managers and employees hate them. Reviews don’t generate behavior change. They are largely counterproductive. Replace them with an individual development plan that comes from the individual being developed.
  • Bob Prosen spoke to TEC groups on accountability. Our members learned that we have been asking the wrong questions relative to accountability and poor performance. Most managers use some form of management by objectives.
    When the objective is not accomplished, we generally ask, “What is the problem?” This line of questioning opens the discussion to all manner of excuses.
    Best piece of advice: Don’t ask what or why. Ask “when?” When will the project be back on plan? Take good notes. Let individuals hold themselves accountable for the accuracy of the “on plan” time estimate. No excuses.
  • Brian Beaulieu, a favorite speaker throughout all of TEC, is an economist with a remarkably accurate macroeconomic track record. He predicted the recession of 2008 three years before it occurred. He told members what to do in advance of the downturn. Members who listened to the advice weathered the storm far better than those who ignored it.
    Best advice: Buy Beaulieu’s book, “Prosperity in The Age of Decline,” and read about his prediction for another Great Depression in 2030. Also, read Beaulieu’s advice in Chapter 14, specifically for your children.

These are only a few examples of helping leaders be more effective and learning to live a better life. There are many more out there and many more to come.

Best advice: Hail a TEC chair and ask for an audio file of any of these speakers. You can find a list of chairs at

Or ask for an invitation to attend a TEC meeting as a guest. You will have more and better tools for your business and your life.

-Dennis Ellmaurer is president of Milwaukee-based Central File Inc. Prior to accepting the assignment at Central File, Dennis was a management consultant working primarily as a TEC chair in southeastern Wisconsin, leading three CEO mastermind groups. For more information, contact him at (414) 202-0190 or

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