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Tim Weyenberg

Tim Weyenberg, Former CEO of Foth: Top Three Lessons Learned in the C-Suite

Tim Weyenberg served as CEO of engineering and consulting firm Foth for 16 years. He came into the CEO position underprepared, he says, but quickly learned the best way to make an impact in the organization was to develop leaders.

Weyenberg shared his tips for doing so during a recent talk for the Schneider School of Business & Economics’ Distinguished Leaders Speaker Series at St. Norbert College.

1. Recognize the difference between management and leadership.
Weyenberg says it’s important to realize that management deals with resources, schedules, budgeting and “things,” while leadership deals with people. 

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t manage it to drink,” Weyenberg says. “I’m serious about that. You can lead people with a vision that’s created by yourself, and you can take them into the future imagining a wonderful future, but you can’t make them participate. You can’t make them do a darn thing. It’s their choice.”

2. Create your own definition of leadership.
Identify key traits or behaviors that exemplify your image of an ideal leader, Weyenberg says. It’s important to make it about yourself or your organization.

As part of its “people development initiative,” Foth identified 17 traits or behaviors that exemplified an ideal leader for the organization.

“We defined leadership in a context of our business, with our vision, and selfishly said, ‘This is ours.’ That made a big difference to people buying into it,” he says.

An important, but often overlooked, step in the process is to write down that definition of leadership, Weyenberg says.

“If you don’t write it down, it doesn’t exist,” he says. “Write it down, go back to it, take a look at it and try to live it.” 

3. Determine your purpose.
“Figure out why you’re doing all this,” Weyenberg says. Why are you in business? What is your purpose? Asking these questions will help ensure people in the organization are aligned, have a consensus and are working toward the same goal. 

But determining a purpose isn’t just for organizations. Weyenberg says identifying your own purpose in life is critical for personal development. To determine your personal purpose, you can look to family values, religious values or your own set of values. Once you’ve determined your personal purpose, write it down.

While personal and organizational purposes may change over time, it’s important to have them written in order to make them real. “It ain’t real if it ain’t written,” he says.

It’s something he did for himself 25 years ago.

“In 1992, I prepared on an 8½-by-11 sheet, ‘My purpose in life is to be of service to my family, to my community, to my organization and to my spirit.’ Period. That’s it. And I’m not embarrassed at all to share that. So, do I live that? Not quite yet, because it’s a journey … It’s in my briefcase in the front pocket, and it’s been there since 1992.” 


Sept. 28, 2017