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7 Questions on Leadership with Jim Ristuccia

Name: Jim Ristuccia

Title: Vistage Chair

Organisation: Vistage

I’ve been blessed to have worn many hats across a wide swath of industries, geographies and responsibilities. My 20 years of service as a naval officer put me in unique and challenging situations: Running a fire department; Soviet submarine hunter; Chief Engineer for all the mechanical, hull and electrical systems of a strike destroyer; VIP escort for diplomats and high-level military officers in the Pentagon; non-profit relief organization executive; and spy. As an entrepreneur and business leader my experiences were diverse and at a high level. I started multiple companies including an executive search firm with an innovative service and a publishing company that changed an industry. In the most recent decade, I took the reins of an established 20 year-old wine gift company and accelerated it with 800% growth. Currently a Vistage Chair for a CEO peer advisory board. The first new group in San Diego in the past five years.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Jim's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

Connecting with my people is always important, but not always top of mind as I get pulled in many directions. My people determine my success, so it's imperative to stay connected to them; to understand what's going on in their lives, what's important to them, what they might be struggling with, and how can I best help them in the moment. Connecting on a people to people level and getting on the same pages is always time well spent. Having the awareness and making the time in and amongst the "crisis du jour" is the struggle.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

Being a naval officer certainly propelled me forward as far as increasing my leadership skills and confidence. However, there wasn't anything I learned in the Navy that I hadn't already learned in Boy Scouts. I loved Scouts and really took to it. I did just about everything I could including achieving Eagle Scout, being Senior Patrol Leader and being an instructor for Troop Leader Development for several years. When I look back now, especially seeing my own son's participation in Scouts, we really had a lot of latitude back in the day. I organized and ran weekly scout meetings where we had multiple skills demonstrations, games and organized all our gear for pre- and post campouts. We hardly had an adult around, now there are almost an equal number of parents hovering over the kids and providing direction. It was the freedom and responsibility that I had that made the difference in becoming a competent leader.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

Wake, walk the dog (Alaskan Malumate) with my wife, breakfast, emails, meetings, planning for meetings, prospecting for new members, confirm meetings for the next day, stop around 5pm, walk the dog, maybe yoga, dinner at home or with friends, watch a little TV with my wife, read, lights out.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

Don't assume peoples' worst intentions, especially if they are your employees. Sometimes people are going through some stuff and they need a little help. Figure out how you can help them first. If you can relieve a burden in someway, they just might become a superstar for years to come. People remember how they are treated for a long time.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

I keep going back to "The Road Less Travelled" by M. Scott Peck. His definition of love is really profound--"Love is the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another spiritual growth." It was so helpful for me to understand relationships. Love is an intentional act and through the act you want the other person to grow. The circumstances could be perceived as positive or negative, but it's still an act of love to help someone (or yourself) grow through an experience. Firing someone because they are perpetually late could be an act of love because you want to show them that there are consequences for their (in)action. Holding your child's hand so they don't dart in the street is also an act of love. So having intentionality for growth is love. I want my members to grow, so what I do for them is an act of love.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Be bold. Take chances. When confronted with a decision on your life, take the one that scares you because you will grow from that experience. I had an opportunity to go to Jump School --three weeks of Army parachute training when I was in college. I thought it would be too hard, now I regret not taking the chance to do something beyond my comfort zone.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

Susan Scott in her book Fierce Conversations, has a great quote: "While no single conversation is guaranteed to change the trajectory of a career, a company, a relationship, or a life, any single conversation can." One of my members was considering giving away 45% of his company to make his his COO a partner. The company was doing so well that my member didn't really need a partner anymore. The partner wasn't really performing to the level that he should, but the founder had it in his mind that he needed a partner. The company was successful because of my member. In our monthly one-to-one I started to ask probing questions of my member: "What does the COO bring to the table?", "What's the company worth right now?", "Would it be a net negative or net positive if the COO left on Monday?", "If I had a business and wanted to give away 45% of my business, worth 7 figures to an underperforming employee what advise would you give me?" The answer became very evident as we progressed through this discussion. He called off the partnership idea. This was a single conversation that changed the trajectory of not only his company, but his life for the better.

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