LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL — Mount Everest was the goal in 2001. This year, International Service Leadership (ISL) wants to send its contractor members to the moon. What’s it going to be in 2003? Heaven?

Don’t put anything past ISL president Bill Efird and his creative staff. At its recent Performance Planning Retreat, held on the beautiful grounds of Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, ISL members were placed in an “outer space” atmosphere, which included entering the main assembly room through a space tunnel (complete with billowing smoke), a fake rocket ship near the front stage, and presenters wearing space suits. Attendees even heard from Jon Cowart, manager of the Space Shuttle Vehicle Engineering Office at nearby Kennedy Space Center, who talked about his desire to land on Mars.

The main task, though, was preparing contractors for a successful summer. Each attendee received a thick “flight plan” workbook, which contained plenty of guidance in the areas of leadership, selling, and templates to determine, among other items, specified monthly goals. During the two-day event, there were plenty of breakout sessions for firms to iron out summer objectives, and lunch sessions to learn about various topics including “How to Turbo Boost Your Earnings.”

“We’re going to help you develop a plan that will take you and your team to heights that you’ve never before achieved,” said Efird in his opening talk. “You and your team will develop a strategy to help you accomplish record results in spite of the challenges created by the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001. Before we proceed into developing a flight plan, we must first understand and practice what all the astronauts understood: personal leadership!

“Let’s build the foundation and then proceed with the ISL flight plan to bring all aspects of your company together as one.”


In what was called the “preflight warmup,” Efird stressed that good leadership is the foundation of any business, career, and life.

“In order to practice the principles of leadership, we must learn good leadership skills,” he said. “Just as great leadership can make businesses successful, inadequate leadership can destroy them. After much discussion and observation, it is the consensus of the ISL staff that in order for us to meet our objectives and help our membership take their companies to the next level, we must improve our leadership skills.

“Many of the challenges that we face are caused by misunderstandings, lack of knowledge, and the need to practice sound leadership principles. This breakdown in leadership causes the frustration that many of us experience at every level. We owe it to our employees, our coworkers, and ourselves to become great leaders.”

According to ISL principles, there are five essential stages of leadership, which must be practiced in order. (For details, see “ISL’s Leadership System,” page 10.) Efird stressed that successful leadership requires setting appropriate priorities. He said the hardest task for any leader is to address important, but maybe not urgent, matters, such as selling service agreements, training, budgeting, planning, and relationships with coworkers.

“This is the most difficult to perform, as it requires more mental energy, discipline, and initiative,” said Efird. “Yet, it makes the biggest difference in the level of a company’s success.”

He noted the two most important ingredients of successful leadership are the integrity and character of the leader.

“Character is who we are — the aggregate of our qualities,” he said. “Integrity means you will conduct yourself according to your beliefs. It is the matching of your words and deeds. You are the same no matter where you are; you are what you appear to be.”

Efird concluded that the leader’s No. 1 responsibility is leading change.

“Not all change is an improvement, but you cannot have improvement without change,” he said.

To create that climate of change, he said the leader must develop trust, be willing to change first, understand the history of past changes, help people understand the importance of the change, and, when possible, get input and ideas from coworkers.

“By now, it should be painfully obvious that each of us is completely responsible for our achievements, accomplishments, successes, failures, and where we are in life,” he said. “The key step in our personal quest for success in life and to be an effective leader is to acknowledge this fact and then act on it.”

He concluded by quoting one of Dr. Phil McGraw’s “10 Laws of Life”: “Life rewards action. Make careful decisions, then pull the trigger.”


Instructor Tom Wittman went through a “preflight assessment” before teams broke into specific goal-setting measures for the summer. Wittman noted that contractors will receive exactly what they give and “you can get anything you need as long as you help enough elements of the machine get what it needs.”

From the workbook, Wittman had members answer situation analysis questions. These questions dealt with economics (sample question: “Are your credit cards paid for in full?”), career (“Can you advance your income based on your efforts/results?”), social (“Are your friends supportive and encouraging?”), personal (“Are you satisfied with your personal appearance?”), and lifestyle (“Are you pleased with the way you live your life?”). Wittman pointed out that this task could possibly help members identify some disturbing patterns.

“For instance, if you notice that you tend to put things off, what are ways that you can change that pattern, or at least, how can you change so you don’t put off the things that matter most?” he said.

Wittman also presented ISL’s case for having a strong business plan. This method was termed “Business Acceleration Model when Incorporated into the Team” — or, BAM IT!

The success of this model relies on the ability of the team to create needs when demand is high by involving customers with maintenance agreements. Wittman stressed that this means building your company through marketing and advertising avenues when demand is high to fulfill needs — “not ‘create needs’ when demand is low.”

With help from fellow ISL staffers, instructor Mike Treas went through examples of how to handle customer calls and requests. He pointed out some “words of wisdom” from Zig Ziglar: “You can get anything out of your life you want as long as you help enough people get what they want.”

Sidebar: ISL’s Leadership System

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL — ISL believes there are five essential stages of leadership, which must be understood and practiced by every coworker at every level. It said each stage builds on the others, and one must pass through each stage in order.

“You cannot skip a stage,” said ISL president Bill Efird. “The higher you go, the higher the commitment and effort.”

  • Stage 1: Title. “People follow because they have to.” Authority is based on title only. This is the weakest stage.

  • Stage 2: Relationships. “People follow because they want to.” Leader cares, understands, and has good relationships with others.

  • Stage 3: Results. “People follow because of what you do for the organization.” People like and trust you and like what you are doing to help the team. Key information is shared. Cross-training of jobs is the norm. Morale is high; the organization is effective.

  • Stage 4: People development. “People follow because of what you have done for them.” The followers are very loyal to the leader because they have grown personally because of the leader’s help.

  • Stage 5: Personhood. “People follow because of who you are and what you represent.” Efird said think of your favorite teacher, coach, or mentor. “That’s what you shoot for,” he said.

    — Mark Skaer

    Sidebar: A Few Friendly Wagers

    LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL — What is a contractor convention without a few bets between friends?

    Omaha, NE, contractor John McCarthy Sr., owner of McCarthy Heating and Air Conditioning, made it known to those attending the recent International Service Leadership (ISL) meeting that he was challenging Lee Painter, president of Service Now! of Akron, OH. McCarthy vowed for one and all to hear that his firm’s predetermined goals would exceed the predetermined goals established by Painter’s team for the period of April through September. Whoever lost the bet had to feed the winner’s team.

    “I’m just ticked that Painter was voted one of ISL’s Contractor of the Year,” said the affable McCarthy, a previous Contractor of the Year winner himself.

    ISL president Bill Efird made sure that McCarthy relayed the successes his firm experienced since the previous Performance Planning Retreat, held in Las Vegas. Among other successes, McCarthy said his team had jumped from 42% to 48% improvement in average sales.

    “John took a proactive approach,” said Efird. “He had his team take up a whole suite in Las Vegas and they buckled down and worked it out.…This is a textbook case for leadership.”

    McCarthy noted that having every employee buy into the program is the key.

    “It’s a lot more fun then,” he said. “We had 23 barriers we had to challenge, but we got through it.…If I could suggest one thing, it’s work with your business instead of in your business.”

    — Mark Skaer

    Publication date: 05/06/2002