Shaping great leaders

InitiativeOne makes complex leadership concepts approachable

Posted on Oct 30, 2020 :: Small Business Spotlight
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Anyone who’s ever been a leader knows it’s complicated, which is why Fred Johnson started InitiativeOne, a business dedicated to helping organizations become the best they can be through cutting-edge leadership transformation processes.

While many leadership programs can feel intangible, Johnson says his proprietary systems and simple tools make it easier to execute complex leadership concepts. The tools must be working since the business continues to grow and will finish an expansion and renovation of its downtown Green Bay offices this winter. The renovations include adding a video wall, state-of-the-art equipment and a mezzanine area.

The expansion is warranted, given the success of InitiativeOne’s free, monthly leadership trainings called “Think Tanks.” The program started out as a smaller undertaking with only 16 or so attendees, but more than 400 people took part in the last session before the coronavirus pandemic hit the region. Johnson says the expanded space is designed to “accommodate the audiences in our Think Tanks, which is our No. 1 driver of business leads.”

Johnson is no stranger to leadership roles. He began to develop the tools used by InitiativeOne after meeting Rosetta Riley, the co-creator of the lean manufacturing process, when he was leading a megachurch in Detroit. Riley shared with Johnson a lot of her own leadership insights and experiences.

“That’s where I really learned leadership,” says Johnson, adding he saw value sharing what he learned with others. “I left full-time ministry to start InitiativeOne in Scottsdale, Ariz. I just knew that it was a calling and it lit me up, so I took a risk and started a company in my basement 20 years ago.”

Since that time, InitiativeOne has thrived. The business shapes leaders in a variety of businesses from the NFL to health care systems. “What we look for is not the particular field they come from, but we look at the qualifiers that we’ve identified that make someone a good fit with us,” Johnson says.

To put it simply, the organization’s leaders need to be fully engaged and see the value in investing in world-class leadership. “It’s not an HR training initiative. It’s really about transforming how leaders think and behave,” Johnson says.

Five years ago, Johnson moved InitiativeOne from Scottsdale to Green Bay. To Johnson, moving to the Midwest was better for the business since it was centrally located and easier to catch flights to see clients and work with clients in different time zones.

“We found that (working out of Scottsdale) wasn’t efficient and allowing us to maximize our opportunities,” says Johnson, adding he evaluated several cities in the Midwest before deciding on Green Bay. He says the move has been nothing but positive.

“It’s been a great move, because living in a smaller town gave me the opportunity to meet a member of the Packers scouting staff,” he says, adding that introduction led to working with three NFL teams. “The irony is that we never would’ve had those opportunities if we had stayed in Scottsdale.”

Despite the recent challenges posed by the pandemic, InitiativeOne continues to flourish, with business up 30 percent, Johnson says. The pandemic led to one of the company’s goals — offering its processes and systems in a digital form.

Johnson says his 11-member team at InitiativeOne is energized by the opportunity to continue the conversation around effective and impactful leadership. “If you transform enough leaders, you transform the company,” he says.