John E. Quinlan often designs and leads offsite retreats with executive teams. The objective is to build psychological safety, encouraging the team to have in-depth conversations pertaining to not only the company’s 5-year strategic vision but personal values, personal visions and leadership temperament and styles.

Quinlan utilizes a campfire council setting. In addition, previous clients have utilized a talking stick, which encourages the sharing of deeper insights on becoming more integrated, vulnerable, authentic, connected and impactful with the people they live and work with. His “Campfire and Hunting Party” blog provides an in depth look at this process.

Quinlan often suggests pairing offsite retreats with an organizational assessment, which provides incisive data on financial, operational, strategic and organizational issues. His assessment helps to identify situations threatening business success; identify management, organizational, and operational issues; expose critical management actions necessary for the business to compete effectively and profitably; and assist in formulating a change strategy to address the issues.

Is your team ready to assess their willingness to be vulnerable? Quinlan has developed the Vulnerability Assessment Tool, a survey which asks thought-provoking questions for self-reflection.


Explore your vulnerability with our Vulnerability Index tool. Ponder the questions, complete the assessment, and then give John a call to discuss the results.


    I think my organization needs change, but I’m not sure where to start. How does your process work and what will be gained by going through it?

    John Quinlan’s organizational change management process is a planned, organization-wide, and long-range effort supported from the top. It strategically improves an organization’s problem solving processes, effectiveness and health through interventions that may include organizational assessment, role analysis, leadership development, management training, team building, campfire council, coaching, conflict resolution and group communication using behavioral science knowledge and technology with the assistance of a consultant-facilitator.

    John will work with leadership during a planning process period to establish the following building blocks to inform and provide options for next steps that will help you reach your business objectives:

    • Assessment of the company’s current position including financial, operational, strategic and organizational issues.
    • Identification of critical issues identified by the assessment, and development of action plans to resolve those issues.
    • Development of the company’s desired position.
    • Evaluation of the gap(s) between the company’s current and desired position; and developing and implementing specific strategies to close the gap.

    Explain what you mean by a campfire council setting?

    Many of us have memories of evenings around a campfire. The slowing down from the daily activities and the enticing dance of flames draws us into a place of warmth and security. The withdrawal to a quiet secluded inner space results in reflection where stories are shared and connections are deepened.

    Similarly, when John engages with clients in off site retreats, the space is created to provide a safe haven for drawing out and sharing deep issues through careful agenda planning, distilling strategy and vision, and integrating input from the team to provide a roadmap for the continued personal growth of the CEO and the executive team. Lasting results are evidenced through the continued profitable and sustainable growth of the company and an open, empathetic, aligned and engaged team.

    What does it mean to be vulnerable?

    John likes to use a metaphor related to Chief Stafford to describe what it means to be vulnerable.  As a former CEO, John originally approached Chief Stafford still with a sense of ego. John equates a chief’s headdress with ego and often explains that the metaphorical removal of his own personal headdress – the putting his ego aside and offering mutual respect and openness – is the true meaning of vulnerability. John learned his biggest lesson on vulnerability from his interactions with Chief Stafford and encourages his clients to remove their headdresses to become vulnerable leaders.

    John reminds us that, at the deepest level, it is the exposure of who you are in light of the fear of being misunderstood, manipulated, and/or betrayed, and it takes a lot of courage and therefore faith to do this, in light of certain risk and uncertain rewards.

    Why should vulnerability be valued?

    John Quinlan learned the value of vulnerability lesson while setting up a Certified Organic and Rainforest Alliance coffee venture in Papua New Guinea. His greatest teacher was a tribal chief dressed in a feather headdress named Stafford. Chief Stafford resonated truth and humility. Outwitting, outclassing, outsmarting didn’t work in his business arena. For John to drop all pretenses and demonstrate in gesture and conversation his respect was an act of vulnerability. Chief Stafford’s simplicity helped to guide John to the next chapter of his life. John’s experience working among a different culture required more openness, insight and sensitivity, and has provided him with immeasurable, life-changing values. John now considers his vulnerability to be his greatest leadership strength.

    Without the willingness to demonstrate risk-taking, it would be very difficult for people to emulate this attribute. A leader needs to exemplify this special attribute in order for it to be emulated.

    Leadership vulnerability is essential as an organization aligns to a set of core values and behavioral norms. This alignment is the hallmark of a strong culture versus a weak culture. A company with strong culture will out-perform competitors with weaker cultures resulting in more sustainable sales revenue and profit margins.

    How can you help leaders build strength through vulnerability?

    John works to help leaders find their truth by being vulnerable and coaching them to do the same. This act of emotional exposure takes courage. It requires one to let go of self-grandiosity and self-rejection and be impeccably honest in order to be authentic with yourself and others. John believes through vulnerable leadership, we make the greatest connection and create the best business environment, built on trust and respect.