As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Rick Capaldi. Dr. Capaldi has been a practicing family therapist for 40 years, specializing in childhood disorders, parenting and learning disabilities. Dr. Capaldi is a former adjunct professor at Pepperdine University’s graduate M.F.T. counseling program and an instructor of psychology and sociology at Saddleback and Irvine Valley Community Colleges. Dr. Capaldi co-founded Outreach Concern, one of the largest non-profit, school-based, counseling agencies created to help students and their parents eliminate the barriers that impact performance in the classroom. Outreach Concern works directly with students on a confidential, one-on-one basis to help them overcome obstacles that impact classroom performance. Dr. Capaldi is also president of Capaldi & Associates, an international organizational development firm that has provided executive management assessment and organizational development services for companies like Carter’s, Federated Corporation, Macy’s Department Stores, Neiman Marcus, Bass Pro, First Team Real Estate, The Home Depot, Westin, Sheraton and Renaissance Hotels, Bloomingdale’s, Thrifty Snyder’s Drug’s and over 40 police/fire departments and municipalities throughout Los Angeles and Orange County.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Mycareer path developed out of my interest in the business and human service fields, but not exactly at the same time. My educational efforts supported this interest, which resulted in Capaldi and Associates, Inc., an international organizational development firm providing executive management and assessment services. In 1993, I also cofounded Outreach Concern, Inc., which has become one of the largest non-profit, school-based counseling agencies in the nation, providing support in schools throughout Southern California for children and their families.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
I entered fields where my products and services were not readily embraced. Organizational development and executive management assessment were not easily accepted forty years ago, and therefore difficult to market. By developing an excellent product and strategic partnerships, we were able to establish a solid brand and relationships worldwide.
Similarly, Outreach Concern, Inc., the non-profit organization I cofounded, was also a difficult sell. Twenty-six years ago, getting schools to recognize a need for mental health services in K-12 schools was an uphill battle. It was difficult to obtain funding due to a lack of awareness of the growing mental health need that now is highly recognizable. We started a quarter of a century ago in 12 schools with 14 counselors. Now we’ve been incorporated in over 900 schools and helped over 500,000 children and parents. This story is captured in my book 21st Century Parenting, which describes the highly effective parenting model I developed over the years working with Outreach Concern.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
Many of the factors I’ve embraced are similar in other organizations: vision, willingness to risk, product knowledge, seeing the big picture, resilience, and building great teams have all attributed toward my success. Outreach Concern has seen the most success with school boards who provide direction, growth, support and constantly challenge their leaders to go further.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
Networking is certainly important, and taking the time to develop strong strategic partnerships is an excellent tool. I didn’t recognize this early on in business, but was able to embrace it as I developed. It has paid off consistently.
Finding the right people is extremely important, but not a simple task. There may be many talented individuals, but identifying that blend of work ethic, sense of urgency, technical skill sets and interpersonal fiber that connects teams is the challenge.
I’ve always had a strong work ethic, but in a leadership role, having a 24/7 commitment at times is overwhelming. Creating a healthy balance of work and diversity outside the work environment is a must.
Early on, isolation was a huge challenge, particularly when our organization was small. In order to grow and keep up morale, new companies and budding leaders must seek out support from individuals who share similar experiences.
Another surprise early on was realizing that not all people have the same concept of what “good performance” looks like. Getting the entire team on the same page about performance expectations, having a sense of urgency and delivering results was a challenge. These key expectations ended up being a part of our overall corporate culture.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
First, I think you need to love what you do. Then, be willing to consistently infuse new concepts and innovation into your business plan. Be willing to risk and be critical of your performance. Constantly ask “What does good performance look like?” “What’s my competition doing that I’m not doing?” Support your organization with new, talented people.
I believe burn out comes from boredom. This can come from being more focused on maintenance versus growth. When work stops being exciting, it is because you have allowed your organization to become stale. In short, new ideas, talent and concepts help to avoid burnout. Whenever possible, face and tackle the next challenge head on — this can be the antidote to burnout.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’m grateful for my parents, who always supported having a strong work ethic and embracing new opportunities. I’m also grateful for the leaders I’ve met with similar and dissimilar approaches to business. They have provided me a lasting learning opportunity.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
On a personal level, I’m satisfied. I’ve accomplished many of the goals I’ve set out to, and many more I had no idea I’d be presented. From a professional standpoint, I’m still hungry. I want to continue to develop both my businesses because the opportunities are limitless. For Capaldi and Associates, Inc., I would like to take on a new business client who’s interested in reorganization, staff development, or the incorporation of new talent. An opportunity to start all over again is always exciting.
As for Outreach Concern, my goal is to get schools and human service professionals to recognize the effectiveness of this model as it pertains to student performance on a nationwide basis. We’ve received national recognition as the result of my new book 21st Century Parenting, which describes a ten-year Student Performance Accountability Study we’ve recently completed. The study incorporates over 35,000 student referrals for academic, social, emotional, behavioral and mental health issues. In this study, our Outreach Concern method demonstrated an 87 percent performance improvement in over 900 schools we’ve worked with. This study is the first of its kind, focused on a behavioral intervention method I developed and incorporated in the schools we work with.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
From a leadership position, I would hope I’ve helped to develop people with strong work ethics, willingness to embrace challenges and strong partnership-building skills.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
We seem to spend a good deal of time focusing on why something didn’t work, and the mistakes people made. Don’t let your team focus too much on what didn’t work. Obviously, it’s important to recognize mistakes, but I would encourage people to stop wasting time and focus on the solution. The one thing we never have enough of is time. So, my movement would be to encourage people to use the one thing you have the least of and value the most: time! Focus on how you can make it bigger, better, more productive and more impactful to your market or other markets. What are you doing right for your business, employees and community, and how can you build on that effort now and into the future?