NGC Experience: Keith Strombotne

Keith Strombotne

As a new hire, Keith Strombotne was surprised to find he’d been enrolled in a program that would take him out of the office one day a month for five months.

His employer was Adwerx, a digital advertising company in Durham, NC, and the program was the Foundation for Effective Leadership from NextGen Center. But he hadn’t taken an entry-level position. In fact, he came from a software startup he’d founded and where he managed a team of ten. 

“I thought I understood what leadership meant,” Strombotne said, thinking about his days as a founder. “I thought I had a pretty good handle on it. But I was excited to bolster my toolset and understanding of myself as a leader and really articulate my leadership perspective and point of view, which I had not done before.”

Adwerx enrolled Strombotne, and the significance of that wasn’t lost on him. It meant his employer was clearly willing to invest resources and time into his professional growth. But he had to wonder: was he also willing to invest the time and headspace it required?

“On the one hand, I knew I had a whole day’s worth of work I was going to miss. But once each module got going, I really appreciated being there. I didn’t know that’s what I was looking for, but it was uncovered pretty quickly.”

One immediate discovery was that Strombotne wasn’t carving out time for himself -- not a time for rest and relaxation. This was something else.

“It became clear to me that I wasn’t creating purposeful white space for myself. I needed to carve out time to put the phone down, not respond to email, and just think more strategically about how I can improve, and how I can better engage my team. I just didn't prioritize that.”

Strombotne continued. “We often preach that you should get out of working in the business and work on it. But we never really make time for it. The work I did in the Foundation program was a good way to step out of the weeds for a bit and concentrate strategically on myself.”

As part of the cohort, Strombotne worked in small groups, led by NextGen Center founder, Brian Alvo. He also worked with a coach outside the program.

“My coach and I would talk about the modules, but we also talked about anything else on my mind. I would go to the class and grasp what the module was all about. And then in subsequent days, I'd work with my coach to really put what I learned into practice. For example, we would talk about the leadership perspective and my leadership point of view. We’d talk about how, conceptually, it makes sense, but how do you get traction with it? How do verbalize it and communicate it? Coaching allowed me to take those learnings and put them into action right away.”

Strombotne would also bring his real-world experiences back to his cohort, sharing his experiences.

“Brian is really great at engaging with the class about how we did, what we learned, what was our experience. Talking it through openly with the group is very helpful. Sometimes even the best leaders need to have a sounding board. The program turned into a safe place to find a sounding board. It’s an engaging and open group.”

Since going through the program, Strombotne notes that his perspective on the concept of leadership has shifted.

“It's nice to say you're a leader,” he said. “But if you can't really articulate a leadership point of view or philosophy, it's hard to get others to follow you. This course proves that becoming a leader is a process. You won’t just get through the class and be done, saying ‘I’m a good leader now.’ It’s a lifelong journey. And I’m early in my journey, but the course really helped me put a framework around it that will help me going forward.”

For anyone exploring the Foundation for Effective Leadership program, he has this to say:

“The program helps emerging leaders gain actionable tools and tips to really hone their leadership skills. Everyone who comes to the class is aspiring to be a better leader. 

But come in with an open mind. If you come to the course with a negative attitude or preconceived notion, you probably won’t get much from it. But Brian is energetic, enthusiastic and definitely cares about each person. Be open to change. Because the class will change you.”

Brian Alvo