CEO: Communicate, Execute, and Optimize

Episode #1032: Learn how to teach CEOs to “CEO” (Communicate, Execute, and Optimize) in a conversation with Jim Canfield, a seasoned executive coach who has held leadership roles in some of the industry’s most impactful executive coaching organizations. Topics discussed include changes in the coaching industry, the impact of AI, the importance of course correction, and Jim’s experience with Kraig Kramers and CEO Tools. Read, listen, or watch for insight on CEO Tools and a visionary acronym for the role of a CEO.



About Jim Canfield

Jim began his career as an account executive for Calibre Financial Group, and transitioned to the coaching industry thereafter as a Chair with Tech Worldwide, now known as Vistage. After taking on several leadership roles within Vistage, he joined Renaissance Executive Forums as CEO—where he stayed for ten years and met Kraig Kramers, President of CEO Tools. Thereafter, he returned to Vistage as a speaker and—through his knowledge and friendship with Kraig Kramers and other impactful coaches—became the President of CEO Tools.


Jim has helped rewrite the book for CEO Tools and helps put coaching tools together for other executive coaches. Jim has also received several awards including Speaker of the Year for Tech Canada in 2018 and the Vistage Worldwide Speaker of the Year in 2020. Jim continues his work with CEO Tools today and is currently creating a software platform to act as a tool and knowledge base for coaches who follow CEO Tools. Jim is also training through CEO Tools’ certification program, teaching executive coaches how to best coach their clients. Jim’s leadership and impact through Vistage, Renaissance, and CEO Tools make him a great source of executive coaching knowledge.

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Key highlights


Jim’s journey to executive coaching

Timestamp 03:15


Jim began several companies at the start of his career and transitioned to the investment world thereafter to fuel his passion for the financial side of business. After experiencing the finance industry, he started to feel “constrained” and began coaching through Tech, now known as Vistage. Jim shares that it was a “natural transition” as he has always had a love for helping leaders holistically improve their business.


The catalyst that led to his coaching career and position of Chair over peer executive groups came from the Institute for Executive Leadership at Rhodes College. There he learned the value of peer evaluation and advisory—which proved influential as Jim was able to grow Tech’s Chair count from 125 at the onset of his engagement to over 700 globally by the time he left. Because of his vision, Jim was a key player in advancing Vistage during a pivotal period of growth.


The importance of multiple methods

Timestamp 06:59


One of the most valuable tools that Jim used during his time in the executive coaching industry was the use of multiple methods. Jim shares that in most peer groups, leaders use the “same method over and over and over. They use a guided discussion.” Because of this, groups miss out on the benefits of using multiple problem-solving methods. Using different methods in peer groups helps individuals view issues in a new way and decreases predictability in group responses. Jim has experienced massive success from his guarantee of “never [using] the same methods twice in a row” during a session. Most importantly, after introducing new methods of problem solving, Jim debriefs those he worked with so they can improve their response to similar situations in the future.

Jim’s experiences in both Vistage and Renaissance

Timestamp 10:56


Jim has experience in working with Vistage Worldwide and Renaissance Executive Forums. There are key structural differences between Vistage and Renaissance. However, Jim shares that there are many similarities beyond the structural differences. After serving as the CEO of Renaissance, Jim returned to Vistage as a speaker. Severin asks Jim if it was difficult to return to Vistage and Jim shares that he had a difficult time leaving Vistage first. When Jim did return to Vistage, he was readily accepted back into the Vistage community. Jim shares that “it was a much more welcome and warm reception than I had anticipated. There were some Chairs who really made a difference in that… [and were] really engaging early on to help.” Severin comments on Jim’s excellence of character. By leaving Vistage on good terms and being able to return with ease, Jim displayed his good natured relationships with those at Vistage.

Jim’s introduction to Kraig Kramers of CEO Tools

Timestamp 14:55

Jim met Kraig Kramers, the original mind behind CEO Tools, in the mid-1990s when Jim invited Kraig to speak at his peer advisory group. Jim and Kraig bonded over barbecue, motorcycles, and automobiles. Kraig’s friendship with Jim, paired with his speaking skills, encouraged Jim to continually invite Kraig to speak to his executives. In 2013, Kraig passed away and his content with CEO Tools was purchased by one of his Vistage group members. The purchaser’s Vistage Chair then recommended that he call Jim for ideas on how to take the next step with CEO Tools.

During this time, Jim was encouraged to reflect on what he would do if money was no object in his coaching practice. Answering this question, Jim mentioned he would write a book tailored to coaches, build an online platform, speak about it, and certify people to use the tools outlined in the book. Jim held onto this idea until Richard Kopelman reached out to Jim for engagement with CEO Tools. From this point on, Jim became involved with CEO Tools and became President of the organization. Jim and Richard then rewrote CEO Tools with a “generous nod to everything that Kraig developed” and has continued to develop the knowledge that Kraig Kramers laid out for executive coaches.

Cheat sheets and mantras

Timestamp 19:38

One of the “cheat sheets” Jim uses as a reminder to himself is an acronym for the title of CEO: communicate, execute, and optimize. Jim states that these are the key roles of a CEO in today’s society—especially the optimization of their business. Jim believes that coaches are “great kicker offers” meaning they can easily start projects, but really need to focus more energy on “finishing strong.” That’s why, one of his favorite mantras has become, “finish strong.” When coaching his clients, he lives out this mantra by asking clients “how are we going to close that gap?” Asking his clients this encourages them to achieve their goals.

Jim also enjoys the mantra “manage the quarter, measure the month.” Throughout Jim’s experience running businesses and managing group activities, he has found that monthly goals are not an effective way to lead a team.

As for cheat sheets, Jim enjoys using a cheat sheet that asks “where are we headed, how are we going to get there, and what are we tracking to know when we’re on and off track.” Jim believes that CEOs must always be aware of course correction and be able to stay ahead of goal attainment.

Artificial intelligence and its effects on executive coaching

Timestamp 29:50

Jim and Severin have an insightful discussion on how they believe artificial intelligence (AI) will impact executive coaches and the industry as a whole. Jim shares that AI has been used to analyze customer satisfaction which brings a “new set of both opportunities and challenges.” Jim believes that AI could potentially become manipulative in nature if not well managed.

Severin comments on the potential dangers of AI without scientific verification of the patterns that AI functions on. Jim responds by commenting on how some uses of AI have replaced skill development in others, particularly in sales. Severin responds in agreement, and makes the point that AI is developed and used best off of human intelligence.

Virtual and in-person training

Timestamp 38:45

Both Severin and Jim believe in the importance of virtual and in-person training. Virtual learning offers different opportunities than in-person learning, though they both have meaning and merit. Severin comments on the ability to have a hybrid use of virtual and in-person training sessions. Severin states that providing materials in advance of in-person meetings has increased value to meetings and retreats.

Recognition and appreciation

Timestamp 48:20

In his executive coaching practice, Jim uses quotes like Thoreau’s, “Men live lives of quiet desperation.” Jim states that what he believes people are desperate for is “recognition. Someone to come along and say, ‘you matter, you make a difference. We’re glad you’re here.’” Jim encourages his clients and coaches to remember this in their executive coaching and leadership practice.




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