The Search Economy: How Business Owners and CEOs Can Grow in The Search Economy with Steve Van Diest of Acumen [Episode 9]

In the latest episode of The Search Economy, David talks with Steve Van Diest of Acumen about how CEO's can grow their companies and personal brands in The Search Economy. He shares the defining qualities of the most successful CEOs, the role of content in the c-suite, and the best resources for executives to use to grow.

The Search Economy: How Business Owners and CEOs Can Grow in The Search Economy with Steve Van Diest of Acumen [Episode 9]

In the fast-paced world of entrepreneurship, where success is often measured by revenue and growth metrics, it's easy to overlook the personal journey that every business leader embarks upon. The burden of responsibility, the weight of decision-making, and the constant demand for innovation can leave even the most seasoned CEOs feeling isolated and vulnerable.

Introducing Steve Van Diest, the president of the Front Range with Acumen, a peer advisory group for business owners seeking inspiration, challenge, and growth. With a wealth of experience spanning nonprofit work, ministry, and entrepreneurship, Steve's story is a testament to the transformative power of being truly known and embracing vulnerability.

Recognizing the CEO's Loneliness Epidemic

The Isolation of Leadership

As Steve candidly shared, "The issue is, we can get doing great things. We can have, and I think there's a [need] to redefine success. And then, as you walk into an environment of what business owners, founders, CEOs are dealing with, is letting them know they're not alone."

In the high-stakes game of business, many leaders find themselves operating in a state of perpetual isolation, bearing the weight of their organizations on their shoulders. The pressure to maintain a façade of confidence and control can be overwhelming, leading to a profound sense of loneliness at the top.

Lack of Safe Spaces for Vulnerability

Steve's personal journey highlights the challenges faced by many business leaders. "I was a business owner. I was, and I had a business partner. I was still lonely. I had if I had a conflict with a business partner or a franchisor or another, I had no one to go to."

The absence of safe spaces where CEOs can openly discuss their struggles, doubts, and insecurities without fear of judgment or repercussions perpetuates a cycle of isolation, hindering personal and professional growth.

The Need for Trusted Peer Advisors

"I didn't have men and women that ran other companies in my life when I was a business owner," Steve reflected. This lack of trusted peer advisors exacerbates the challenges faced by business leaders, as they navigate complex decisions and strategic pivots without the benefit of outside perspectives and diverse experiences.

The Difference Between Advice, Resources, and Environments

In his years of guiding business owners and CEOs, Steve has developed a nuanced understanding of the distinct roles played by advice, resources, and transformative environments.

The Limitations of Advice and Resources

"People love to give advice," Steve acknowledged. "If I were to sit and just ask a room full of leaders, tell me your advice, it would just vomit all over you." While advice and resources can provide valuable insights, they often fail to address the deeper, systemic challenges faced by business leaders.

Cultivating Transformative Environments

"How about I actually put the people that I'm leading or I'm surrounded by in an environment where they can help each other?" Steve posed. "It's no longer just me and you in a transaction of getting smarter, but it we've provided an environment of growth."

By fostering environments that promote open dialogue, shared experiences, and mutual accountability, Steve and his team at Acumen create the conditions necessary for profound personal and professional transformation.

Fostering Mutual Growth and Challenge

"I think there's a third tier," Steve explained. "How about I actually put the people that I'm leading or I'm surrounded by in an environment where they can help each other?" This commitment to fostering environments that promote mutual growth and challenge is at the heart of Acumen's approach, enabling business leaders to overcome their blind spots and unlock their full potential.

Personal Growth as the Key to Business Growth

In Steve's experience, the path to sustainable business growth is inextricably linked to personal growth and the willingness to confront one's own limitations and blind spots.

Aligning Soul Score and Organizational Maturity

"If your sole score on a 0 to 10 is at a 4, your business and your relationships, if you're really honest, cannot go past that cap," Steve asserted. This profound insight highlights the interdependence between personal growth and organizational maturity, underscoring the need for business leaders to prioritize their own development as a catalyst for their company's success.

Overcoming Blind Spots and Imposter Syndrome

"I didn't have it in my life to be able to poke holes and go, 'Hey. You've got some blind spots,'" Steve admitted, reflecting on his own entrepreneurial journey. By creating safe spaces where peers can challenge and support one another, Acumen helps business leaders confront their blind spots and overcome the insidious effects of imposter syndrome.

The Role of Trust and Being Truly Known

"I think it's if you can just put yourself in environments where people can fully, fully, fully know you, all the crap, but then they also love you, you're gonna you're gonna grow as a leader," Steve emphasized. This commitment to fostering trust and vulnerability is the cornerstone of Acumen's approach, enabling business leaders to shed their protective shells and embrace their authentic selves.

Embracing a Generative Mindset for Marketing

In the rapidly evolving landscape of marketing, Steve's insights underscore the importance of adopting a generative mindset that prioritizes understanding customer behavior and fostering genuine relationships.

Understanding Customer Behavior and Buying Journeys

"I want you not just to go, 'Hey. We're coming into your PPC and your SEO,'" Steve shared. "No. Actually, I'm hiring you to become my fractional marketing company. Let's talk your audience. Let's talk what revenue you make, what profit looks like, what a good deal, what a bad deal is."

This holistic approach to marketing emphasizes the need to deeply understand customer behavior, buying journeys, and the unique context of each business, enabling more effective and authentic communication.

Adapting to Shifting Marketing Landscapes

Drawing upon his experiences in the mattress industry, Steve acknowledged the need for businesses to adapt to shifting marketing landscapes. "And the funny thing is in that area, what was the greatest thing, that helped our source was crazy sign spinners on the street."

As trends and consumer preferences evolve, businesses must be willing to embrace new marketing strategies and channels, while remaining grounded in their core values and authenticity.

Viewing Marketing as a Relationship-Building Process

"Businesses grow at the speed of relationships and trust," Steve asserted. "The marketing agency is the holder of that. Can we build relationships with PPC, with SEO, with branding? Let's tell that story so there's a relationship with the consumer."

By reframing marketing as a process of building genuine relationships and fostering trust, businesses can transcend the transactional nature of traditional marketing and forge deeper, more meaningful connections with their customers.

Creating a Culture of Challenge and Accountability

At the heart of Acumen's approach lies a commitment to fostering a culture of challenge and accountability, enabling business leaders to break free from the echo chambers that often surround them.

The Importance of Peer Advisory Groups

"He goes, 'Have any of your buddies over the course of your 35-year career told you that you're an a-hole and your idea is horrible?' And he goes, 'No. Never,'" Steve recounted, highlighting the value of peer advisory groups in providing unvarnished feedback and genuine accountability.

Escaping the Trap of Hearing Only "Yes"

"I go, 'Yeah. Because you're not letting them in deep enough to say, we actually think you're kinda shady,'" Steve continued, underscoring the tendency of business leaders to surround themselves with those who will simply affirm their decisions and ideas.

By creating an environment where honest feedback is not only welcomed but actively sought, Acumen helps business leaders escape the trap of hearing only what they want to hear.

Providing an Environment for Honest Feedback

"They're not here just to all blow smoke up your butt," Steve asserted, addressing a new member's hesitation about receiving constructive criticism. "They're actually here to challenge you and poke you."

This commitment to fostering an environment where honest feedback can be shared without fear of repercussions is a key differentiator for Acumen, enabling business leaders to confront their blind spots and make more informed, strategic decisions.

As Steve Van Diest's journey illustrates, the path to unlocking true business potential lies in embracing vulnerability, fostering trusted relationships, and cultivating environments that promote personal and professional growth. By creating safe spaces where business leaders can shed their protective shells and confront their blind spots, organizations like Acumen are paving the way for a new era of authentic, purpose-driven leadership.

In a world that often prioritizes metrics over meaning, Steve's approach serves as a powerful reminder of the transformative power of being truly known and the profound impact that vulnerability can have on both personal and organizational success.

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