Chuck Wachendorfer Of think2perform On How Leaders Make Difficult Decisions

An interview with Maria Angelova


Connecting the decision to what it means to the individual, not just the company.

As a leader, some things are just unavoidable. Being faced with hard choices is one of them. Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. What’s the best way to go about this? Is there a “toolkit” or a skill set to help leaders sort out their feelings and make the best possible decisions? As part of our series about “How Leaders Make Difficult Decisions,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Chuck Wachendorfer.

Chuck Wachendorfer., co-author of DON’T WAIT FOR SOMEONE ELSE TO FIX IT, is President of Distribution at think2perform. He is a renowned leadership development professional and has worked with clients including American Express, Wells Fargo, Comerica Bank, TD Wealth of Canada, Charles Schwab, and others. His insights on leadership have been featured extensively in media such as CNN Money, Forbes, Fortune, and The Denver Post. You can learn more at:

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Leadership was an expectation that I grew up with early in life, As the oldest of four kids in a middle-class family, I was expected to “lead by example”. That included getting good grades and taking leadership roles at school, doing chores around the house and side jobs like shoveling snow, mowing lawns, and delivering newspapers. My parents also wanted us to be well rounded and supported us in athletics, music, Boy Scouts, church, etc. That experience growing up really developed my ability to manage myself and lead others in many different situations. I learned, if I was going to make difference in my life or the lives of others, I couldn’t wait for someone else to fix it. That concept is the title of my new book, DON’T WAIT FOR SOMEONE ELSE TO FIX IT, co-authored with Doug Lennick, the co-founder of think2perform,the consulting firm where I work today.

Since I was expected to earn my way and developed a math aptitude, I graduated with a mechanical engineering degree thinking that would allow me to be independent and give me a well-paying job out of school. Quickly, I learned that engineering was not for me because I desired more control over my time and income. So at 24 years old, realizing that if I wanted a change in my life it was up to me, I took a commission-only position as a financial advisor with American Express. The road to success was the classic long hours with little or no income for a few years and, at times, lots of self-doubt. It taught me resilience, self-reliance and increased my self-awareness about building habits that would contribute to my success. Being clear about who I wanted to be and what I wanted my life to look like, helped guide my decision-making and close the gap between my current reality and the vision I had for my life.

With my success as a financial advisor, I was offered leadership opportunities which I enjoyed even more than being an advisor, because of the positive impact I was having on others’ lives. Many of the tools I learned and employed in developing individuals and teams, Doug and I discuss in DON’T WAIT FOR SOMEONE ELSE TO FIX IT. It involved acting with “Integrity and Responsibility” (Chapter 5) and employing “Empathy and Compassion” (Chapter 6) to engage peoples’ best efforts and change behavior.

After twelve years, I had become a very successful executive, leading hundreds of advisors and staff over a multistate region for Amex. I realized, though, that I had no formal business training. In evaluating what was next for me, I employed the 4R’s — Recognize, Reflect, Reframe and Respond — that we talk about in Chapter 7 of our book. In order to keep growing, I had to be willing to get uncomfortable and expand my knowledge of running large businesses. After discussions with Amex senior leadership, they decided to support me attending Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program with other leaders from around the world.

With that tremendous learning experience coupled with my successful track record of developing people, I was given opportunities to lead regions that were not performing or in crisis. But once again, I found myself getting bored. After seventeen years, I was at a crossroads in my career. When I compared the vision I had for my life to my current reality, I realized I didn’t want to continue moving up the corporate ladder. I decided to take a couple years off to ski and travel with my wife and young children.

That time away gave me the space and time to think about what I really wanted to do with the rest of my life and focus on what I enjoyed. Ultimately, it led me to my role with think2perform. That role allowed me to exercise both my problem-solving skills as an engineer and my strengths in leadership and developing people. As you can see, much of what we write about in DON’T WAIT FOR SOMEONE ELSE TO FIX IT, I’ve had the opportunity to apply in my own life.

For the past nineteen years, I’ve had the fantastic opportunity to work with leaders and business owners from around the world in many different industries, helping them accelerate the growth of their people and organizations. I have learned so much along the way and worked with so many amazing people. I am forever grateful for the path I have been on.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Wow, the list of people in my life (and I actually have a list!) that have helped me is long and I think about them often. Some have helped me personally, some professionally and others helped without even knowing the impact they had. A few years ago, I wrote everyone on my list a card letting them know how they had positively shaped and impacted my life. It was about 30 people. Many knew they had an impact but quite a few didn’t realize or had forgotten. I found it tremendously rewarding and grounding to thank each of them personally. It helped remind me that my success was not due to only my own efforts and appreciate the help I had received. The exercise also helped reinforce the mentoring and help I give others so that I might be the person others are grateful for someday.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

Part of a leader’s responsibility is to provide clarity and certainty as well as hope and optimism when at times, it appears there is none. Years ago, when I was a senior executive with American Express, 150 people quit on the same day from the most profitable region in the company. They left to start their own firm and were trying to move 20,000 clients and over $1 billion in assets. All five VP’s, twenty-five managers and much of the staff left with them. As you can imagine, the story was on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. I was brought in to rebuild the region and restore its profitability.

On top of fighting this PR nightmare, we had to recruit, hire, and develop a whole new management team while still retaining clients and their assets. I talk about the tools we used in Chapter 9, “Achieve Purposeful Goals,” and in Chapter 10, “Empower Others.” There was so much uncertainty that I had to help the team manage on a day-to-day basis. To do that I had to be clear about our vision (where we were going), our values (what we stood for), what the team could expect of me, and what I expected of them. Communication and defining reality were critical during those dark days. With everyone being so new, we had to be crystal clear about our priorities and what each of our roles was in achieving our goals. We tracked our activities weekly and held each other accountable for getting things done. There were no excuses.

After twenty-four months, we were able to take the region from last to fourth place in the country. Many of my new leaders got promoted because of our outstanding results and are still successful today.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through challenges? What sustains your drive?

Of course, I have considered giving up many times over my life and career. I think most of us have. In the final chapter of our book “Recovering from Leadership Setbacks,” we talk about how to overcome those challenges. Someone said to me years ago that you want to “talk to” yourself, not “listen to” yourself. Listening to yourself is that negative voice in your head. It’s the doubter, the pessimist, the naysayer. Talking to yourself is the positive voice that reframes things and helps you see the possibilities or opportunities.

The most important thing that helps me through difficult times is having a clear picture of the life I want to build for myself. Doug and I call it “What Do You Want For Yourself” or WDYWFY. Having a clear picture of what you want, and most importantly, why you want it, helps you get through the suffering and challenges that life throws at all of us. Viktor Frankl in his monumental book, Man’s Search for Meaning, helps us see suffering or challenges as a “blessing,” because they bring us clarity of purpose and meaning. Annually, I think about my WDYWFY and the steps I need to take to make that a reality.

Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader?

In my early forties, as I mentioned above, I reached a crossroads in my life and my career. After much reflection, talking with my wife and mentors, I realized I had taken my career at American Express as far as I wanted it to go. I didn’t want my boss’s job, nor did I want to stay in the job I had, even though it was tremendously rewarding financially. What’s more, I didn’t want to raise my kids in the city where we were living. I knew I wanted my life to look different, but wasn’t sure what exactly that meant so I decided to take a couple of years off to figure it out. People thought I was crazy. But I knew I had to take this uncharted path and explore what might be possible for me. In my twenties, I had left engineering to become a financial advisor (which I knew nothing about) so taking a career risk wasn’t new to me, but the stakes were definitely higher this time.

We ended up selling our house, all our furniture and cars to move into our 1,200 square foot condo in the mountains of Colorado. When it was snowing, we skied and when it wasn’t, we traveled all over the world. That experience changed how I thought about the rest of my life and ultimately, helped me find the role I have now at think2perform.

What process or toolset can a leader use to make a choice between two difficult paths?

When faced with a tough decision, I always go back to my top five values to ground myself in what’s important to me. As I have gotten older, some of my values have changed, but they are always my guide. They provide the clarity I need and help me eliminate some options. With what’s left, I think about which of my choices best aligns with all my top five. As an example, years ago we were selling our home and had gotten an offer that would have allowed us to breakeven, but was below our asking price. I was very conflicted about what to do and noticed my frustration building. I went back and reflected on my values and what was most important to my family. I also noticed that I was basing most of my decision about the offer on the value of “wealth” which is important but not one of my top five. I also realized that I had a bias that was affecting me. In the past, we had made money on EVERY real estate transaction we’d ever done and I was applying that unrealistic expectation to this transaction.

Once I was able to reconcile my values and realize my bias, I reframed how I looked at the offer and ultimately, accepted it. Within one year, that house dropped $500,000 in value because of the Great Recession. Not only did I dodge that potential loss by changing how I thought about the decision but most importantly, my family was happier in our new home. I used the 4R’s, mentioned above. It got me to recognize my frustration and reflect on my top value and bias. With that knowledge, I was able to reframe my choices and respond with a decision that was more aligned with my values and better for my family.

Do you have a mentor or someone you can turn to for support and advice? How does this help? When can a mentor be helpful? When is this not helpful?

I have multiple mentors from all walks of life so that depending what I’m up against, I can draw on their expertise to help me think through a critical issue. Most of the challenges we face in life are not unique. Others have faced them to. While each situation may have its own unique circumstances, drawing on their experience can help us avoid mistakes and save us time as well as money. One of my favorite sayings is “The school of experience has expensive tuition”. One of the toughest things for many of us to do is ask for help. The most effective leaders are able to set their ego aside and rely on a trusted set of advisors or mentors. Each of us have biases and are triggered by emotions that affect our ability to think clearly and make good decisions. Advisors or mentors help us counter those.

Do you ever look back at your decisions and wish you had done things differently? How can a leader remain positive and motivated despite past mistakes?

A few months ago, in a press conference after the Super Bowl, quarterback Jalen Hurts was asked how he felt about “losing” the game. He responded by saying there was only “winning or learning” and I think that’s what setbacks or mistakes often offer us. We talk about that in the final chapter of our book, “Recovering from Leadership Setbacks.” Focus on progress, not perfection. Once you can let go of being “perfect,” enjoying the journey becomes easier. Many overachievers measure themselves against the ultimate destination, but don’t appreciate the progress they or their teams have made. The key is to be “pleased” but “not satisfied”. I know we/I can do better but look at the progress we’ve made! That perspective not only helps the leader but most importantly the people they lead.

What is the best way to boost morale when the future seems uncertain? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team during uncertain times?

Be real, don’t bullshit people about the facts, but paint the future with hope and optimism. Recognize and reinforce even the smallest progress that’s made and build momentum on that progress. In “Empowering Others,” we talk about catching people doing things right. When you do that, you reinforce the behavioral changes you want to see in order to produce the desired results.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses or leaders make when faced with a hard decision? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

1.Thinking that others know what you know and think like you think.

2. Confusing being “direct” with being “harsh.”

3. Assuming “simple” is also “easy.”

4. Distorting reality because you think that you or your people can’t handle it.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a leader should do when making difficult decisions? Please share a story or an example for each.

1 . Communicating vision and values.

2 . Defining reality in no uncertain terms.

3 . Know your key activities.

4 . Connecting the decision to what it means to the individual, not just the company.

5 . Sharing the “WHY”.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll.” — AC/DC Listen to the lyrics of that song because it’s a song about life. It reminds me of the first line of The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck — “Life is difficult.” Once you accept that, everything else gets easier. Life isn’t perfect very often and when it is, it’s not perfect for very long. Keep balance in your life, be kind, and learn to enjoy the journey.

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can go to our website at to discover your top five values, follow me on LinkedIn or buy our new book DON’T WAIT FOR SOMEONE ELSE TO FIX IT.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.

Thank you for the amazing opportunity!

About The Interviewer: Maria Angelova, MBA is a disruptor, author, motivational speaker, body-mind expert, Pilates teacher and founder and CEO of Rebellious Intl. As a disruptor, Maria is on a mission to change the face of the wellness industry by shifting the self-care mindset for consumers and providers alike. As a mind-body coach, Maria’s superpower is alignment which helps clients create a strong body and a calm mind so they can live a life of freedom, happiness and fulfillment. Prior to founding Rebellious Intl, Maria was a Finance Director and a professional with 17+ years of progressive corporate experience in the Telecommunications, Finance, and Insurance industries. Born in Bulgaria, Maria moved to the United States in 1992. She graduated summa cum laude from both Georgia State University (MBA, Finance) and the University of Georgia (BBA, Finance). Maria’s favorite job is being a mom. Maria enjoys learning, coaching, creating authentic connections, working out, Latin dancing, traveling, and spending time with her tribe. To contact Maria, email her at To schedule a free consultation, click here.



Maria Angelova, CEO of Rebellious Intl.
Authority Magazine

Maria Angelova, MBA is a disruptor, author, motivational speaker, body-mind expert, Pilates teacher and founder and CEO of Rebellious Intl.