National Business Incubation Association; Your source for knowledge and networks in business incubation

Leading and innovating from Fort Wayne, Ind.

by Dinah Adkins

February 2012

NBIA’s foremost proponent of professional development — including building leadership skills — is likely Karl LaPan, president & CEO and “Certified Dream Manager” of the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center in Fort Wayne, Ind. LaPan takes seriously managing dreams and building a culture that will help him and others succeed.

“Everything starts with the leader,” LaPan says. “Engaged professional development starts with the leader’s philosophy about continuous lifelong learning.” He requires that all staff learn to respect each other’s ideas, teaches that authority equates with accountability, and stresses that “higher expectations yield higher performance.”

These aren’t empty words at NIIC. LaPan relies on a performance management system that includes performance reviews, soft skills assessments, and other tracking and measurement tools to assist in growing staff. “I believe in regular self-assessment, linked and shared goals between and among employees, and evaluation of actual results metrics to determine success in reaching and aligning individual and organizational goals,” he says.

NIIC serves a 10-county region, and LaPan insists his crew of 11 (five full-time and six part-time employees) be diligent in career development, staff development and personal development activities. (See Sample professional development activities for examples.)

LaPan believes personal development should be based on finding the answers to questions he has gleaned from personal study:

  • Where should I invest my own time, talents and treasure?
  • What are the values that give purpose to my life?
  • What changes would I make if I could reinvent my life?
  • If I were hired as a consultant to my own organization, what advice would I give?
  •   How do I encourage my personal continuous workplace learning?
  •   How do I go from success to significance and chart a path to a winning life?
  •   On a scale of one to 10, how happy am I right now? What would make me happier?

These are all big questions. LaPan believes in opening himself up to learning moments; reflective thinking; and finding how to advance the incubator, improve himself or identify a gap or opportunity. He also believes the best leaders are lifelong learners engaged in a purpose that keeps them connected and motivated. “I am always open to creative self-destruction of the model that has gotten our program where it is.

“I believe strategy is not only about being better but different, so I am always looking at how we meet the higher order and more complex requirements of entrepreneurs,” LaPan says. “For example, I think incubators can be engaged in the executive recruiting business, but in order to do so, we need credentials in hiring the right-fit talent. My certification in a psychometric instrument like Predictive Index allows me to provide a service that would be cost-prohibitive for our clients.”

LaPan says professional development should be ongoing. “I believe incubation program leaders must be active lifelong learners, demonstrating their relevance and intellectual curiosity and investing in the most relevant toolkit and skill set to deliver the highest quality entrepreneurial training, coaching and services to their clients,” he says.

“I am driven to achieve my personal best, and in doing so, I have committed myself to the highest standards of performance and personal accountability. Personal reinvention is a prerequisite for staying power and success as an incubator CEO,” he stresses. LaPan then quotes legendary former GE CEO Jack Welch: “‘An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.’ This mantra drives me daily — personally, professionally and organizationally.”

Sample professional development activities

For career development:

  • Civic and professional involvement and memberships (work on taskforces, teaching courses, etc.)
  • Incubator-specific activities (NBIA and state association conferences and training, certificate programs, shadowing and identifying mentors)
  • Personal training and continuing education (certification in areas of functional expertise and also in Coach U., Dream Manager, Predictive Index, 1-Page Business Plan and Kauffman FastTrac training)
  • Leadership-development programs (Leadership Fort Wayne locally, and national executive education programs such as those at Stanford, Harvard, etc.)
  • Lifelong learning (staff retreats, investment clubs, learning circles and discussion groups, coaching and mentoring, etc.)

For staff development:

  • Tools for staying on top of the game (Readings with application to the incubator — Creating Magic, Pyro-Marketing, Global Achievement Gap, The New Gold Standard, Daily Drucker, etc., and classes in Spanish, anatomy, etc.)
  • Access to NBIA and other association resources (Training, conferences, Webinars, etc.)
  • Lunch and Learn sessions (Intellectual property, building management teams, financials and cash flow, etc.)
  • Staff retreats (Held quarterly to address "a Big Rock [challenge] or two" and annually to focus on "Bold Moves," update strategies and brainstorm tactics)
  • Visits to best practice incubators and incubator consulting

For personal development:

  • Immersion in themed study (A year on leadership, a year of Drucker)
  • Learning from interesting people, places and gadgets (Pick people's brains, seek mentors and thinkers who will challenge your ideas, test new products, etc.)
  • Read, read, read (Books, magazines, podcasts, RSS feeds, etc.)
  • Sharpen the saw (Teach, benchmark yourself against best practice models, be a mentor, etc.)

Keywords: management systems, professional development – general, leadership development

Contact NBIA

Phone: (740) 593-4331
Fax: (740) 593-1996
PO Box 959
Athens, OH 45701-1565