If you want your company to be an industry leader, you have to fill it with individual leaders. One way that DPR creates leaders is by sending high-potential employees to the mountains above Florissant, Colorado. That's where FMI Corp., a management-consulting company that specializes in serving the construction industry, runs its Center for Leadership Excellence.
The center is the brainchild of Ron Magnus, 42, a U.S. Air Force Academy graduate and a former fighter pilot. For its four-and-a-half-day seminars, FMI uses a facility called the Nature Place, situated on 6,000 acres and located in the shadow of Pike's Peak. "The idea," says Magnus, "is to get away from your environment and to focus on who you are as a leader."
That focus begins before anyone arrives in the Colorado mountains. Participants undergo a 360-degree peer review that involves 14 leadership attributes, from listening skills to conflict resolution. Groups of up to 20, drawn from various levels of an organization, take part in the review. When participants arrive, they go through an assessment called the Highlands Profile. "We analyze what skills they were born with, what skills they've acquired, and what those skills mean to them as leaders," says Magnus, who describes the 20 tests as a "four-and-a-half-hour ordeal." But Magnus rarely gets resistance: "People love to learn about who they are as leaders."
The bulk of the learning at the center is experiential. In one full-day exercise, participants divide into teams. Each team chooses its own CEO, operations officer, safety officer, and human-resources specialist. The team then heads into the woods to fell a dead pine tree, processes the tree into lumber at an on-site sawmill, and presents the finished product to FMI consultants who play the role of company owners.
The center also uses "low rope" exercises. In one such exercise, five out of six members of a team are blindfolded. They're given mountaineer's ropes that are secured to a bungee cord; the cord, in turn, is clasped around a plastic bucket. A Koosh ball sits on top of the bucket. The person without the blindfold must guide the others as they move the bucket to a new location — without dropping the ball or exerting so much pressure on the cord that the bucket falls over. Says Magnus: "The leaders who are blindfolded recognize what it's like to be a project manager in the field — to follow directions even when you don't know the big picture. And the person without the blindfold learns how to be a more effective communicator."
On the final day, participants select two leadership skills that they want to improve, and then they draw up action plans. FMI consultants do follow-up work and coaching, but the most powerful follow-up is done by the participants themselves. Before leaving Colorado, each writes a letter describing what he or she hopes to accomplish in the next six months. Six months later, FMI mails those letters back to them.
Visit FMI Corp. on the Web (www.fminet.com).
A version of this article appeared in the December 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.