Charles “Chuck” Presbury
Founder, Presbury & Associates
I’m a little different than the typical Norwalk business you might run into. I would describe what I do as HR consulting. I help businesses and individuals, particularly in medium and small businesses, to get better. You could call me a leadership mechanic or a leadership coach. I think of business people like athletes that are getting coaching all the time. As circumstances change, they have to adapt and do things differently. That’s what I help them do. The best-in-class companies that I’ve worked for such as McGraw-Hill and NBC, they all do this. However, the people who run most of our small businesses, who support most of our neighborhoods, never get this kind of help. They’re doing the best they can. So my job is to help them to stop and think a little bit about what they’re trying to do. I give them some room to breathe and think about how to lead better, how to help the people around them to perform better, and how to help their customers better than they could have before.
I’ve lived in Norwalk since 1977. I had worked in New York and was basically semi-retired. I decided I was not going to run into the City anymore to do what I was doing, but instead do it here in Norwalk. So in 2013, I left corporate and decided to continue to practice but actually do it inside a variety of business clients.
I’m coming up on my 10th year in business. It started when the Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce reached out and said they wanted to hear from some different voices in small businesses. So I said, let me let me engage with them because most of my contacts were in New York, and I wanted to move my business up this way. I figured the Chamber is the best resource for people who know the area, people who are smart and would use the same types of services that I that would use. The Chamber and the City of Norwalk have been great resources for referring me and making sure local businesses know that a resource like myself is available to help people that normally would not seek it or think they could afford it.
Now with technology like Zoom, etc., I’m a lot more flexible. I’ve got clients all over the world. I wouldn’t call myself a “digital native” but, in essence, when clients ask where my office is, I hold up my phone. So, any document, anything I need, I can get it in an instant wherever I am. I also have a virtual network of people that I work with in various forms. Other coaches like myself, sometimes people with technical experience in law, finance, etc. If the client needs something specific, I have people that I can bring in as needed.
I also started the Team Building Band with some of my colleagues as kind of an offshoot of what I do that’s not as straightforward as consulting. We are an actual band of musicians that does retreats in a fun way to help people let go of themselves so they can have fun and see and learn differently. The Team Building Band can have a session with people in which we teach them creativity and flexibility. We energize their team by showing them the secrets of being a band while we play. I’m the moderator and we will talk about how music is played and how the band members interact. Then we do some improv and actually have the group join with us. They will make up a song and they will present that song with the professional musicians at the very end. So, they actually learn that they can have courage, that they can be creative. They learn about each other in the process and then create something. A couple of our clients actually use those songs almost like “fight songs” or “theme songs” for their businesses.
That’s the amazing part. We use the band as a metaphor for departments that work together and need to break down walls to hear each other. If you do it together, you actually can succeed. For example, we had a local organization that was having a major transition in leadership. The acting head asked us to come in and have the team celebrate the fact that they had been through a lot. He didn’t say anything to them, except come on upstairs to the conference room. They came up, the band was there and we started playing. At the end, the team created a couple songs that reminded them that they had been successful. That, in fact, they could be proud of what they were doing. When I walk through the halls, I still hear them humming some of the songs.
Another client is a local organization whose new CEO looked around, saw the staff seemed kind of rudderless, and wanted to understand what their strengths and weaknesses were. So, I interviewed all the staff to learn what they saw as the future of the organization and what they would change. In doing so, we realized some of them were on slightly different pages. Some of them really didn’t trust each other. That enabled the CEO to work up a transition plan in which he could start to work with them, talk with them, create relationships with them. So, he overcame the things that created the distrust. Most executives just jump in and start making decisions. We created a forum in which the staff actually stated the best way they could work together. And so they created an actual plan. Sometimes, I can be that voice saying, you know, there’s an elephant in the room. Let me describe it in such a way that we can all get our arms around it, without feeling vulnerable in talking about something that’s uncomfortable.
For example, when you have a start-up company, the entrepreneur is the one who identifies with the business and is used to doing everything. They have to stop knowing exactly how the work is done and start building people who can do the work for them. Now they’re managing the people and showing them where to take the vision. So, it’s actually creating a team to help somebody who is the business and getting that person to realize that they’re going to need other people to take it to the next level. It’s showing the leader how to get away from the mechanics of the business and think about the structure, the DNA of the business overall, and to start running things by trusting the team. It’s understanding how they may do some things differently. It’s not managing their work as much as managing the values, how the team sees things and how they’re going to use their strengths. This happens with larger businesses but it’s more personal with entrepreneurs. I have them rethink what their vision is for that business because it’s not just “their baby” any longer.
I also do some pro bono work for non-profit organizations that have this need, such as foundations in the area and community health centers. I also give a lot of different speeches in different places for different groups to help them understand how to navigate leadership issues. People are trying to pivot, especially with all the craziness that has happened with the pandemic, but sometimes they don’t have anybody to help them think about things differently. It’s fun for me to help people make those pivots.
It has been gratifying for me to see the City of Norwalk really open up again and help promote its local businesses. There is so much promise and potential here.