120 // Transformational Leadership

A Change at Wealthquest

Until recently, I was the president of the Wealthquest Corporation. Wade Daniel and I started Wealthquest back in 2006, and it has exploded into this gigantic thing. We’re not the largest firm out there by any stretch, but we are in the top few hundred in the country.

We started with very little, and we grew it with this vision and idea of what we wanted to accomplish for families. It’s all founded on our mission statement: we exist to empower families to live meaningful lives. That has always been our challenge. What can we do to give families the freedom to live the life of meaning they always wanted to live? How can we give confidence and inject clarity where there is confusion? How can we empower others to run after the stuff they never got to do? They didn’t have the confidence to see those things through because they lacked the experience of having done it before. 

I have loved every second of leading Wealthquest and being in that role of president from the start, but I learned that there is a lot I’m not very good at. I am really good at rallying people, aiming them at a purpose, reminding them who they are, and trying to get their best effort to push this thing up a hill. I am good at that.

I am terrible, however, at budget spreadsheets, HR manuals, and details of stuff that (in my mind) are so boring and so frustrating. I want to be in relationship with people, I want to be connected to them deeply, I want to call them more; that is my favorite part of transformational leadership. So as Wealthquest kept growing, I noticed the things I am not good at took up so much more of my time. I felt steeped in the detail of things that were so mind-numbing for me as a 7 on the Enneagram scale.

The reaction to my transition has been this mix of beauty and excitement, and also some confusion. I am not leaving Wealthquest. I am just stepping into more of what I love. As I have had this chance to let go of the things that were bogging me down, I learned a lot. So maybe there will be some value in it that you can apply to your leadership skills; wherever you use them.

Transformational Leadership From the Bottom

Leadership is not always most effective from above. As we grew, a gap formed around our leadership team that made decisions and organized the company. When we expand the vision, the mission, it leaks. When we made decisions at the leadership team level, there were gaps in relationship and connectedness with everybody else, and it was easy to lose sight of our mission. One thing I am adamantly against in our culture is this idea of “us and them.” We all fight for the same vision of empowering families to lead meaningful lives. What I recognize now is that leadership skills are most effective alongside, not above. Sometimes, it can even be most effective from behind, where you can rally, you can encourage, you can build up. While you do some mundane, maybe frustrating task, someone else who is better at that work now has the freedom and support to fulfill their role. 

I made up this role, and one of the things that I want to do is make sure that as I check in with everybody on our team, I am asking questions like: what training or resources do you need, how are things going, where are there gaps to be filled? If no one in your organization asks that and relays that back to the leadership team, that is when a gap becomes a wound. Stepping into this was about staying in a role of leadership but leading from alongside rather than above.

How Are Your Leadership Skills?

I started to have conversations with several business owners, and I noticed that so many were at a point of crisis from a transition standpoint. Someone who held onto their high level of control and authority in their organization is now in their sixties and all of a sudden, they throw the keys to some person who has never been in that position. Now, the culture will have to adopt that person as the new leader with no track record, no runway to prove that they are an effective and valuable leader, and no opportunity to apprentice with the person transitioning out. Essentially they are throwing the keys to a teenage driver and saying good luck, hope you don’t wreck it.

I want a long runway. We elevated David Kern to the president role because his leadership skills are incredibly effective, he’s detail-oriented and level-headed. He also needs some runway. He needs a long transition to grow into the role and take on the mantle of transformational leadership so that the rest of the team can agree that he is the leader, and feel comfortable in that new dynamic. I’m still in the weeds with him rather than tossing him the keys and wishing him the best of luck with no transition. I want to start that process now when I have the time to be there alongside him, and we can model that to the rest of the team.

My biggest aha! is that the best thing a leader can do is hold the title and the status loosely. I am willing to let go of the title and the things that I am not good at, thus creating space for me to do the work I do best. It’s the healthiest thing for our team and our culture. If you hold a leadership position, I encourage you to think about that. What are the timelines of that transition? Why wait until this scary moment where you have no other choice and put the team in a crisis where they have to suddenly adjust to a big change? Start that sooner and find out just how healthy it is for other people who are much more talented in those areas to work in those areas. Now I can build the infrastructure to ensure that, across the board, our clients experience the same things we promise. I work on the training design to make sure everyone on our team is well equipped, and they each feel connected to who we are and what we’re about.

If you have questions, we’re an open book. Please reach out to me jlenhoff@wqcorp.co

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