Small Business Spotlight: Step Back Leadership Consulting

Chloe Teasley

Jason Barger, a natural born leader, hones his passion for leadership by authoring, speaking and consulting on the subject.

Jason Barger was still a summer camp director for First Community Church at Hocking County's Camp Akita when he started looking for other ways to share his passion for leadership. He didn't know it would include writing a book.

The messages about leadership and culture Barger now conveys through his work as author of three books, keynote speaker and leadership consultant aren't new thoughts, they are merely shared in a new venue.

"I think I've been fortunate, from an early time in life, to find my way into leadership roles. It's always been something that I feel I have thought about differently than others," he says. "I started to realize that I am really passionate about (leadership) and interested in it. I see the way it impacts everything. I think that's taken me on the path I'm on."

Barger's journey to a new career began by spending a full week living in seven different airports, making observations about his fellow travelers.

Barger says he chose airports because he realized their value as a metaphor for life.

"It's a place where we are all going different directions, and yet that's where people's lives are intersecting-lives that are filled with delays and obstacles and cancellations. How we choose to travel along our path impacts the profoundness of that journey," he says.

That philosophy, initially expanded upon in Barger's first book,Step Back from the Baggage Claim, has continued to take off. Barger's business, Step Back Leadership Consulting, has given him the opportunity to work with big-name central Ohio brands, such as Alliance Data, Nationwide, Ohio Department of Transportation, Nationwide Children's Hospital and Columbus 2020-to name a few.

Fittingly, Columbus Regional Airport Authority President and CEO Elaine Roberts has involved Barger in multiple efforts and initiatives. The relationship began when Roberts saw an article aboutStep Back from the Baggage Claim. Roberts says she appreciates the directness of Barger's message and his ability to aid tough conversations.

"We just finished an engagement survey and we shared the results with all employees," she says. "There were a couple departments that didn't score very high. We weren't sure what the issue was, so Jason helped facilitate the private rollout of those conversations to get people to open up, and they always do. The feedback I got was that people would love to keep working with him."

Barger frequents sparkspace, a collection of creative conference rooms, to consult about culture and other topics as a "collaborative partner" with the company. He and owner Mark Henson enjoy a friendship that is as useful as it is enjoyable. Barger has no shortage of these.

"Doug Kridler at the Columbus Foundation has been a great mentor and support for me. Howard Behar (former Starbucks president) and I became friends and he has gone out of his way to be a great mentor to me. It makes me feel good because from his perspective and experience, he sees the value of how important (the work) is for teams and organizations," he says.

While the motivation for writing his first book had nothing to do with business, people began asking Barger to speak, which got him thinking about the potential of his message to be applied that way. His messages are applicable in a broad variety of contexts-from the office to the nation. His upcoming book,Thermostat Cultures, available Nov. 17, is no exception.

"Sometimes we get stuck, individually and in teams, in thermometer mode. All a thermometer does is react to the room's temperature. Our knee-jerk response to many of the things happening in the world right now is to only react. When we are in reactionary mode we are also often pushing the ownership of the problem onto somebody else," he explains.

"However, a thermostat sets and regulates the temperature, which is what I think is needed most right now in the world. ... That image and that mindset can make us more thoughtful about the temperature that we can maybe start to set differently as a culture."

And Barger's analogies seem to stick. Roberts says she finds herself thinking of the airport illustration often.

As for the future, Barger's goal is to continue to amplify the messages he shares. He measures future success in the currency of authentic connections with teams that wish to develop their culture.

"Whether it's a personal relationship, a team at work, a board position or the coach of a sports team, I hope these messages contribute to their ability to come together as a group and have more clarity around not just where they're trying to go but how they are getting there," he says.

Chloe Teasley is editorial assistant.

Step Back Leadership Consulting

P.O. Box 218262, Columbus 43221

Business: Author, keynote speaker and consultant on leadership development, company culture and clarity of mission, vision and values.

Owner: Jason Barger

Employees: three

2015 revenue: wnd