The story of Leadership Choices

Leadership Choices was founded in 2008, in the midst of the turmoil following the biggest financial crisis in decades. The founding partners were Manfred Barth, Rolf Pfeiffer, both ex-Accenture, and Bill Crombie, a former investment banker with Greenwich NatWest, as well as a handful of early associates.

The foundational idea was to build an international partner-led consultancy focusing on the rather subtle topics in top management, such as crises, politics and power.

Leadership Choices started as an executive coaching boutique for high-level executives and their teams. Right from the beginning, the company was owned by the Equity Partners, who held shares of approximately the same amount. Next to the founders these were Dr. Holger Karsten, a former partner with Arthur D. Little and Accenture, Alexander Röntgen, a former CEO with Tarmac, and Karsten Drath, a former Managing Director at Dell. Some years later, Uwe Achterholt, a former partner with Accenture, and Thomas Plingen, a former CEO with Freudenberg, joined as co-owners of Leadership Choices.

All equity partners were experienced international coaches with a strong network and an extensive own leadership and business development experience in different industries. Each of them could have been successful on their own but preferred to work together with talented and interesting colleagues and share both experience and profit.

One idea behind Leadership Choices was that there should be no boss or guru, just two or three spokespersons, elected by the equity partners for a three-year term. The role of these managing partners was to represent Leadership Choices to the outside world and coordinate the development of the company.

There are no individual financial targets and consequently there is no monitoring. This is by no means due to idealism or lack of financial interest. Rather, it has to do with the fact that most of the equity partners had previously worked in modern, performance-oriented companies and value self-determination and autonomy more than economic success alone. Collaboration, transparency and fairness are strong foundational values of Leadership Choices.

Without exception, all important decisions are being made by consensus. This was not always easy and required a lot of communication and time. Right from the beginning, the equity partners decided strategic issues together, regardless of the amount of their shares. And yet, consensus is a great thing, but radical changes of direction in corporate strategy and groundbreaking innovation are difficult to achieve with it.

In 2018, Uwe Achterholt, Karsten Drath and Rolf Pfeiffer were elected as managing partners. Shortly thereafter, Rolf Pfeiffer left and joined another consultancy in the mentoring space. Bill Crombie stayed on as an associate but sold back his shares. Manfred Barth, the spiritus rector behind Leadership Choices, had already left the organization back in in 2013.

Crisis leads to Innovation

Ten years into the business, Leadership Choices was in a crisis. The original founders had stepped down which did not leave the company on a great trajectory. At the time, Leadership Choices looked very German, mostly male and somewhat old. There was no clear vision or strategy, our culture was not very inclusive and respectful, and our inner cohesion was not very strong.

In a first step, a more diverse management team was put in place. For the first time, it also included partners who were not part of the ownership of LC but very committed to making a difference. It finally also included more female colleagues.

In the new LC Management Team, we developed a very aspirational and bold vision for the next ten years of Leadership Choices. We wanted our work to be meaningful and we wanted to have impact, not only with regard to individual leaders, but also impact on teams, organizations and even for society. In the beginning, all this felt very lofty and hard to believe for ourselves. But over time, this vision became our driver …

Better Leadership – Better Organizations – Better World

It was clear to us, that we also needed a different consciousness with regards to our own culture. Changing organizations or even the world is not exactly a small goal and it needs a strong and congruent spirit and value system embedded into everything we do. Over time, this became an aspirational mantra for our desired culture …

Practice what you preach

For a company in our industry, this simply meant to apply the same principles to ourselves that we would recommend to our clients, e.g. more transparency, more self-organization and a stronger feedback culture. It is much easier said than done and we are always in the process of practice.

Another strategic change was, that we decided to provide coaching services for all levels of the organization and as a result also took on board coaches with different profiles including colleagues with more middle management experience. We also hired coaches with a more psychological education and colleagues from other societal sectors. We knew that we wanted to build a diverse community of highly qualified team players. During this ongoing journey, one of our most important recruiting criteria became this …

High Impact, low Ego

At the same time, we launched the Academy of Choices, our open enrollment offering for leadership development, led originally by Stefanie Arnold. For the first time, we were able to put together a sophisticated curriculum for present and aspiring leaders. And we did this as a team of coaches working together. Developing this was also the foundation for our model Spiral Leadership Development. We felt that we needed a particular attitude or mindset in our workshops to foster #BetterLeadership.

We did not want to offer traditional trainings simply conveying theory in an entertaining way. Models are important, but the impact comes from deep individual reflection and practical application. Since our clients are experienced managers, we much rather aimed to create learning spaces where each participant contributes to the learning by sharing his or her story. Our learning journeys are led by coaches and rather than teaching, their role is to create a space of psychological safety where participants can open up, talk about the real challenges in their leadership roles, and learn as much from each other as they learn with their coach. To articulate this, we coined the phrase:

Coaching Mindset in all we do

Over the years, the nature of our work had also shifted towards more leadership development and organizational coaching. We all very much enjoyed the intense work with many dozens of leaders in largescale workshops. It was greatly impactful, fostered a great team spirit, and was really fun for all parties involved, too. We could really see how this work had the potential to contribute to #BetterOrganizations.

What the Pandemic has taught us

In the middle of our promising reorganization, the Covid-19 pandemic hit us. At first, there was a moment of shock and uncertainty. But within a few weeks, our Community become fully virtual, and we re-launched and intensified our internal LC University in the digital space with a broad variety of connection, collaboration and co-learning events. Rather than suffering, our internal cohesion, and the sense of belonging in the team became even stronger. Several communities of practice were founded, where like-minded colleagues shared experiences, learned from each other and worked on projects together. From topics like team coaching, agile coaching and resilience coaching over to intercultural coaching fueling into our community #BetterWorld.

Encouraged by what became possible through the virtualization of our work, we also embarked into different fields of work. We launched Leadership Hacks, a series of short, targeted leadership impulses, which companies can use to foster micro-learnings in the area of leadership.

We also started two virtual conference formats, the OPEN University together with the WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management, and CHOICES – The Conference for Leadership, Transformation and Resilience. Both conferences have become places where leaders and professionals share the journeys and challenges of their organization in an open and transparent way.

Also, we launched our own interview podcast Leaders Talk. In this biographic podcast we portrait leaders from various fields who are committed to better leadership, better organizations, and a better world. Our guests are business and thought-leaders, social entrepreneurs, and politicians. We talk about their personal stories as well as the motivations and values that made them pursue their exciting journey.

The future will tell how our story continues.

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” (Winston Churchill)