Wisper’s Journey with Built to Lead

Recently we announced that Wisper would be opening up Built to Lead sessions for our employees and our outside followers of Wisper University. Built to Lead is a leadership coaching program, but not in the ways you might think. I’d worked with other executive coaches in the past, but we had outgrown each other as the company grew.

How It Started

I met David Deck about a year ago on LinkedIn while I was searching for an executive coach. I’d worked with other executive coaches in the past, but as the company grew, we had outgrown each other. But I knew after 10 minutes that David and Built to Lead was the right fit for Wisper.

A little background on David – He is one of five left-handed boys to start off his unique life path. He was born in St. Louis and moved to Chicago with his family. His stepfather is an entrepreneur, and that helped start him on his journey to Built to Lead.

He started as a teacher, but when he realized he wasn’t making the impact he originally wanted, he jumped in to help his step-father with the family business.

After his family filed for bankruptcy when one of their enterprises when under, David encouraged them to pray for insight as they looked for a new path. Under this suggestion, they opened a new store, one of the first New Balance franchise stores in the country. They had limited stock, limited styles, but they had a good feeling that their shop would succeed.

In the early 90s, his stepfather met a website designer, back before that was a common occupation. Even though the idea of an online store hadn’t gathered any steam yet, they opened one of the first online shoe stores in 1997. They sold and shipped orders out of the back of their small retail location.

Because they were some of the first people to try-out this business model, there were no trade shows, no industry expos to go to, so in true entrepreneurial spirit, they had to figure it out themselves. However, this opened them up to work without limitation or industry expectations. They ran their store how they thought was best, and they were named among the Top 3 online retailers, behind Zappo’s and early Amazon.

When they started seeing some traction in the early 2000s, they grew their store to a $1 million net worth, but by 2008 they had grown to $30 million. New Balance was blown away by their success and bought them out, keeping on David and their staff to help them bring that success to the rest of the company.

David and his family realized that if they were going to help build out this legacy they created, they would need a coach. David was beginning to feel the pressure and anxiety of the responsibilities that come from leading a larger company.

What if they made the wrong decisions? How would it impact themselves and their employees? While searching for an executive coach, they came across Chett, the founder of Built to Lead.

When David started with Built to Lead, it wasn’t exactly what he had expected from an executive coach. What he realized very quickly was that leadership is not what you read in books, it’s not a skill that you’re naturally good at or you’re not. Leadership is about knowing who you are, what you believe, and why it matter, both personally and professionally. And that’s what Built to Lead is based on.

After working with Chet and watching the business his stepfather had started grow to $100 million by 2005, David realized that his core values no longer aligned with what New Balance wanted from their company. They wanted to put profit over people, and David didn’t believe in that philosophy.

It took a few years, but David left the company he helped build from the ground up to follow his core values. Instead, he asked Chet if he could help him teach Built to Lead to other entrepreneurs after getting so much out of it himself.

Not long after he made this jump, David got a message from someone named Nathan Stooke, who ran a company called Wisper Internet.

Working with Wisper

Once Wisper started to grow out of our garage and won some CAF money, we were looking at a lot of growth. I realized that the way I had been running my small business was no longer going to work for a growing company. I found the EOS system to help me manage my business operations, and we still use that in Wisper today. But I needed some guidance on how to run this rapidly growing business as a leader.

I realized I needed to reassess my leadership style. We were getting too big to continue to step in on every problem, and I was missing the ‘people’ side of leadership.

After meeting with David and keeping EOS as a framework for our business, I needed Built to Lead to connect with our people. I wanted the ‘people’ focus to be what made Wisper different, and that had started to fall into place. I realized I wanted to share that with everyone in the company.

For example, I struggled with follow-through before starting Built to Lead. I had a hard time holding people accountable and having those confrontational conversations. I knew that I didn’t want to be that person, but I didn’t know how to get there.

When David and I started working together, one of the first things we looked at was developing my core values. One of those original values was about giving people more chances than they deserve to succeed. I realized pretty quickly that this core value wasn’t actually what I wanted to present. What I wanted was to give people more chances than they deserved, but also turning those chances into learning opportunities and places for growth.

This shifted my world view and my values away from confrontation and helped me focus on the learning experience, and coming into those conversations with love and progress in mind. It took practice, but it helped me to see situations differently and approach them better without compromising on my values. It placed the responsibility on them those opportunities for growth and change.

Instead of me coming to them and pointing out what they were doing wrong, it became a conversation. Why are you struggling? What can you do in the future? I wasn’t placing blame, I was asking how I could help them.

Other coaches I worked with in the past had said that I just needed to learn how to have these conversations, even if I didn’t like it. Built to Lead helped me recognize my values. I created a world view for me to work from so that I could shift the way I viewed things without compromising my beliefs.

How Does This Apply to Wisper as a Whole?

My original vision for Wisper was to have a lot of employees and a lot of customers. It wasn’t about being big or making a lot of money, but more about having the opportunity to have a positive impact on the people we serve. That became a core value, to create those opportunities that make a difference for people. Having that core value helps to bring it to the company and create actions around it.

I want to take that to the next level at Wisper. I want to help other people make these same transformations to have an impact. I want everyone to feel passionate about the company and this program as well, but you have to buy into it. It has to come from within. That’s why I’m offering these sessions up to all of our Wisper employees, and also opening them up to our Wisper University students.

I want to share this program because it helps me so much, and I want to give them the same chances to succeed.

I hope this helped provide a little bit of background on why I feel so strongly about opening this program up to more people, and I hope you’re as excited as I am!