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  • Writer's pictureDave Veale

A true investment in leadership development

Updated: Sep 21, 2023


When I first spoke to Sean Hanlon, I felt an instant connection. He was fun, engaging, and thoughtful.

Over the years, I’ve admired his dedication to ensuring the leaders within his company get the support and development they require.

Here’s the backstory. Sean is the CEO of Dillon, an employee-owned professional consulting firm that specializes in planning, engineering, environmental science and management. It’s a large company, with more than 1,000 employees in offices across Canada. They’re an exceptional, engaged group of people.

Sean, who became Dillon’s CEO in March 2020, just as the COVID 19 pandemic was upending the world, took the job wanting to pursue his interest in helping others develop.

The result is a peer leadership development program that he put together based in part on lessons he’s gleaned from his time at the Wallace McCain Institute’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, which has been delivered to leaders in Atlantic Canada since 2007.

What he’s put together along with his colleague Dillon President Shayne Giles is very impressive.

The Entrepreneurial Leaders Executive Leadership Roundtable program at Dillon will run for three years and start with a cohort of 12 present and future company leaders from across a range of technical disciplines.

I’ve had the good fortune of witnessing an inspiring program launch in a support role as a facilitator and coach.

The truly unique angle here is that Sean and Dillon's other executives decided against outsourcing – choosing instead to run the program in-house in a way that fits their culture. It’s an approach that will require lots of time and energy from Sean, Shayne and those in the program.

I’m confident it will pay huge dividends throughout the company. It’s a great example of an organization embracing the value of their employees, focusing on their growth as leaders and developing a structure so that leaders can coach each other – or what we call peer-to-peer coaching.

“I didn't want a program that was lecture-based. We wanted shared learning and shared exploration. We want it to go in the direction that the group needs it to go,” Sean explains. “It’s about building relationships and setting individual, personal and business goals and holding each other to account. It’s really about producing the atmosphere for folks to lean on each other and help each other and coach each other. They’re able to bounce ideas off each other in a safe, confidential way.”

As Sean notes, we are all more likely to pursue a solution to a problem if we have a hand in developing the solution – as opposed to having one pushed on us from above. Our peers can help nudge and guide us to those solutions.

While some executives find it challenging to find the time to give their employees feedback, Sean is doubling down by running an in-house, peer-driven program that he himself is participating in – and not just in the design but openly participating in.

Why do I highlight that point? Because I believe it requires vulnerability and humility for an executive to openly state that they are growing and developing along with being coached. It shouldn’t, but it does. This is a fabulous example of a leader “walking the talk.”

Sean clearly understands the value of role modelling vulnerability based trust, as Patrick Lencioni encourages in all leaders in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. His company and employees will benefit from that knowledge.

Dave Veale

Founder & CEO

Vision Coaching Inc.

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