After building his vacation home, Tom Mitchell, owner of Mitchell Construction, in Medfield, Mass., wanted to take a month off and still be able to return to a thriving business. With a business coach, Mitchell developed what he calls “the counsel.” “This was a clear next step for me as the company grows and I want less involvement,” he says.

Mitchell asked co-owner and wife Mary; the company's business manager; the head of project development; the production manager; and the senior interior designer to be part of a group of leaders who would “learn skills that would enable them to help those they work with to realize their potential.” There would be no extra pay, and “the counsel” members' level of accountability would be high. They should expect to be challenged. All agreed to participate in a meeting.

“At first they didn't quite get it,” Mitchell says. “But by the third meeting they did, and they felt a sense of ownership and value for themselves and within the company.”

Everyone in the group had to share one strength and one weakness — something that wasn't easy for them to say and was not something anyone else knew. It was difficult, but Mitchell paved the way by sharing his own feelings. “That's [my] job , to lead like that,” he says. “I try to teach people who work for me to play to their strengths.”

The group counsels by setting an example and by working closely with the 13 other staff members. “I've asked [each person on] ‘the counsel' to pick one employee each week and create a relationship with him or her.” This has helped alleviate some of the finger-pointing and cliquishness that had developed between the field and design staffs. The group held six meetings before Mitchell's departure. While he was gone, they “had some problems but solved them,” he says. Now “the counsel” has become part of Mitchell's long-term strategy. “The morale boost for those on ‘the counsel' was huge, as was the ownership they took in the company. It gave me a sense of freedom from being shackled to the business.”