Kathy Steele, center, with fellow graduates of The Junto Institute,

This article was first featured in Daily Herald Business Ledger.

Where do the business runners of today find ongoing learning options that help them scale their business? In 1985, there were about 250 courses offered in entrepreneurship at college campuses across the nation. In 2008, that number was 5,000, according to a timeline study by the Kaufman Center. Traditional degree programs provide an incredible advantage for aspiring founders, but what about the many people who found a company post-college or need support once past the initial start-up phase?

Filling a Learning Gap

The Junto Institute, founded in 2013 by Raman Chadha and Catherine Jelinek, had a bold vision to help build an education program for growth-stage companies. At Junto’s core, it provides leaders, and leadership teams access to the resources, training, and mentorship necessary to survive and thrive. They were no strangers to challenges faced by entrepreneurs. Raman was founding director of DePaul’s Coleman Entrepreneurial Center, and Catherine served as operations manager for the Michigan Business Incubator Association. They recognized there was a large group of businesses passed the start-up stage but had nowhere to access help to achieve long-term scale and stability.

After a few years of fast-paced growth at Red Caffeine, I realized that my business and leadership team needed more support and education. We entered the apprenticeship plus program in 2016, which included Leadership Forums, an Advisory Board, Classes, and Round Tables.

Evolving Leadership, Management Approach

There’s a difference between leadership and management. Those of us who run companies need to excel at both. At Junto, the leadership classes help existing and emerging managers learn greater self-awareness, that build leadership skills, and stronger team relationships. The lessons in emotional intelligence have helped me practice new behaviors and develop competencies that apply to the workplace and my home life. I am still a work in progress, but I know the things I need to prioritize to show up as the leader I strive to be.

The management classes focus on the critical functional areas leadership teams need to perfect. Hiring & Firing, Building a Sales Team, Cash Flow Operations & Metrics, Strategic Planning, Budgeting & Forecasting conceivably areas most founders don’t start businesses to do. The Red Caffeine leadership team took advantage of attending many of these classes together to build empathy and more awareness of everyone’s role.

Shared Experiences, No “Should” Ing

While I have always loved learning, there is nothing like access to people who have been there before you. Junto provides peer forums, advisory boards, CEO mentors and career mentors that advance you, your leadership team, and your company. There is no “shoulding” practice. Instead, you learn by sharing experiences versus advice giving. This powerful methodology provides leaders proven ways to solve problems. Red Caffeine has leveraged the mentorship offering in many ways. Yet, one of the most successful has been the career mentorship. I had asked a former employee what she valued most in her new company that we did not offer at Red Caffeine and she said it was a Career Mentor. Smaller organizations can’t pair up their junior team members with internal leaders with advanced experiences because those people don’t often exist. Junto offers access to highly vetted mentors who are matched based on expertise, market, industry, and functional area. Today our company has a way to offer that professional development benefit.

Being Part of a Tribe

The learning doesn’t end with the apprenticeship program and the benefits go well beyond learning. Once in Junto, you become part of the Tribe – a trusted group of like-hearted business leaders. There is an array of options to stay involved, such as retreats, roundtables, management classes, networking events, and forums. Unlike other programs, they offer very flexible ways to stay engaged as your business needs evolve. Recently they have launched master classes in Leading with Emotional Intelligence and Building and Scaling a Revenue Engine.

Becoming a next stage leader or leadership team is not easy. The Junto Institute provides a learning roadmap to get you there.

Kathy Steele


Meet The Author

I am passionate about people, obsessed with helping businesses grow, and love to support the underdog cause in my community. As a business leader, I'm an educated risk-taker who persevered through challenging economic conditions and a business divorce to be a two-time honoree on Inc. Magazines Annual List of America's Fastest-Growing Private Companies.

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