One man’s vision: making West Michigan known for great leadership

Rodger Price’s mission began with a vision in 2014. In West Michigan’s reputation for generosity, he saw people whose commitment to philanthropy and their community seemed different than in other places he lived.

“About 10 years ago, I started saying what we've always known — this place is unique. It’s kind of like what country music has with Nashville or Silicon Valley with technology, West Michigan has with leadership,” Price says. 

With that inspiration, he launched his leadership training firm, Leading by Design. The name is inspired by the belief that everyone has a really unique design, and that uniqueness can make a difference in their community.

He and his wife, Amanda, Ottawa County Treasurer and a former state representative, moved to Holland in 1989, so Rodger could take an engineering job with Prince Corp., an automotive supplier. (The major Holland employer was bought by JCI in 1996.) 

Admiration, inspiration

He quickly came to admire Ed Prince, the company’s founder and owner, who is also credited for turning around Holland’s downtown in the 1990s. He bought and renovated several buildings, and invested in a public-private partnership with the city to install the downtown’s famed snowmelt system.

“I believe the greatest legacy of Ed Prince is not the money that he and (his wife) Elsa and the family have given away, although that's an incredible legacy. It's the number of leaders who were developed at Prince and now lead throughout West Michigan,” Price says. 

Price also was inspired by the servant leadership model embraced by Amway co-founder Rich DeVos and Max DePree, who led Herman Miller. Both wrote best-selling books about their leadership philosophy. 

He believes West Michigan’s reputation for philanthropy contributes to the strong leadership base.

“For me, great leadership and philanthropy are cousins. Both are about giving of yourself so that others will do well. That’s why I believe that we already are a hotbed of great leaders. I just felt almost even called to kind of name it and pursue it with a team that I would pull together,” says Price, whose team includes Meredith Nieuwsma, Jeff Boersma, Gerald Alvaro, Dave Ozios and Janet Wielenga. Price describes them as "accomplished leaders, great teachers, and highly effective individual coaches.”

His vision is by 2027, when he plans to retire, to have 1,000 people graduate from Leading by Design’s yearlong leader development program. He was about one-third of the way there before the pandemic hit, and on pace to achieve the goal a year or two early.

Career-changing training

Among the longstanding alums are Mike Goorhouse, CEO of the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area; and Patrick Cisler, Executive Director of the Lakeshore Nonprofit Alliance. Jennifer Owens, President of Lakeshore Advantage, has also received the training.

During the pandemic and related economic crisis, Price’s team decided to offer the training at a reduced rate to those in the nonprofit sector. Price previously started a fund through the Community Foundation for leaders of nonprofits. The goal is to make the training available for more nonprofit leaders, and eventually church and education leaders.

A Leading By Design session about shaping culture.

After sprinkling a few non-profit leaders through the training cohorts using the non-profit fund created, Cisler decided to start specific non-profit cohorts with the support of Price and the foundation. There is one cohort of nine leaders half-way through their year and plans to start another in the coming year, Price says.

Angela Huesman, Chief Operating Officer for Lakeshore Advantage, describes her LEAD 365 training as career-changing in a way she wasn’t expecting. 

“I gained practical, tangible tools that helped me be a better and more effective leader in real time. The information, coupled with coaching, gave me the clarity to rapidly implement these practices in my own organization — a major benefit of the program,” she says.

‘Easy to apply’

Mike Dykstra, CEO of Zeeland Lumber and Supply, took the LEAD 24/7 training with several members of his executive team. He describes the training as delivering leadership concepts in a fresh way by incorporating various models, venues, and coaching sessions. The result is the leadership lessons stick with the person. 

“I love the purpose of Leading by Design — to make West Michigan known for leadership. LEAD 24/7 helped me on my leadership journey in multiple ways, including change management, healthy conflict, culture building, and becoming a leader worth following. I would recommend LEAD 24/7 to anyone,” Dykstra says. 

Feyen Zylstra CEO Nate Koetje has made Price’s LEAD 24/7 leadership program part of training for his employees. He appreciates Price’s engineering mind and then applying that to people. 
“Leading by Design takes a well-grounded, academically proven approach and makes it easy for our leaders to apply on a daily basis. They understand the importance of relationships in leadership and moving things forward and make this an intentional focus of all of their programming,” Koetje says. 
Better leaders, better people
He estimates over 30 Feyen Zylstra leaders are graduates from Leading by Design’s Lead 24/7 program. In many ways, the firm has become a sort of laboratory for Price to see his leadership training in action. Koetje credits the training for helping executives not only be better leaders, but also better people.
“There's no disconnect between impacting people positively and positive economic results. They're one in the same. There is no purpose without profit, and there's no profit without purpose.” Koetje says. 

David Bolt, President at GMB Architecture and Engineering, describes Price’s leadership program as very human-centered with a unique blend of learning, coaching, and peer development. 
“I truly believe that this program is one of the best ways to create leaders throughout our area.  Not only is Rodger’s program able to train leaders through their program, but it naturally creates leaders who will pass on those skills to the others in their organization, creating exponential potential for leadership development in West Michigan and beyond.”
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