Ron Kessler to be honored with Exceptional Award for Honorary Alumnus

Ron Kessler to be honored with Exceptional Award for Honorary Alumnus

By Elizabeth McGuire

Of the many attributes listed on Ron Kessler’s bio, a very important one is missing: he writes bad poetry really well. Kessler takes great pride in this skill, although many of his colleagues may not know about it.

One recent poem, crafted for his 10-year-old granddaughter’s birthday, imparted wisdom and encouragement from her “septuagenarian papa” that he hopes might stick with her long after he’s gone.

Viki and Ron Kessler

When he’s not creating rhyming couplets, Kessler is founder/principal of the Ron Kessler Group (RKG), an executive coaching firm that provides one-on-one leadership and performance coaching to clients and enterprises of all sizes.

Kessler began RKG after a 35-year career as a lawyer, and he is passionate about regional and entrepreneurial economies. He has served universities, chambers and the private sector in creating entrepreneurial networks that commercialize technology, create jobs and wealth, and grow and retain indigenous enterprises.

Kessler is a former Partner-in-Charge of the Austin Office of Jones, Day and former partner at Locke Lord. He was the 1993 Chair of the Austin Chamber of Commerce; a past president of Austin Area Research Organization and present Board Member. He serves on the advisory boards of Frost Bank/Austin; the Nature Conservancy of Texas; IC2 and the Center for American and International Law. He is also former Board member of the Texas Civil Justice League; Advisory Council of the University of Texas, College of Fine Arts; Board member of Rites of Passage Development, Inc. and Adjunct Professor, Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest.

Born and raised in Kansas, Kessler attended the University of Kansas and came to Texas in 1963 to attend law school at SMU. After graduating in 1966 he served in the Peace Corps in Venezuela, where he and his wife, Vicki, were married. They returned to Dallas to start their family and his legal career in 1968. The Kesslers later moved to Austin and raised their three children here. Today they are the grandparents of nine “way above average” grandchildren.

In June, Kessler will receive Leadership Austin’s Exceptional Award for Honorary Alumnus, which is given to an individual who is not a graduate of Leadership Austin. The selection is made on the basis of lifetime achievement of community service that epitomizes the highest standards of integrity and a commitment to the core values of Leadership Austin.

Leadership Austin is proud to honor Ron at the upcoming Best Party Ever on Friday, June 2, 2017.

Tell us about making the switch from law to executive coaching…

In 1994 the law firm where I was managing partner was closing their Austin office. My identity was wrapped up in that job and I was challenged to find a new identity and my real purpose in life. Often we don’t find that purpose in life without a disappointment.

I spent seven years finding my identity, and I also found my calling as a values-based coach. In 2003 I started the Ron Kessler Group. I was 61 years old. I made that transition and I left law to start coaching full time. It has proved to be very satisfying.

So often we come to a fork in the road and we just stay there, because we don’t know where to go. There is wisdom in the fork in the road. As Yogi Berra would say, “When you come to the fork in the road, take it.” And if you get down the road and it doesn’t work out, there will be another fork. The trick is to stay in motion.

It takes courage to make big changes. The root word of courage is “cor” (in Latin it means heart.) When we have courage we are coming from our heart, not our head. The head can vector us in strange ways, but our heart will lead us to our passion—to some place we can make a difference.

Ron with family.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your career?

I prioritize things this way: faith, family, friends.

My faith is very important to me and it’s been a huge resource. and I tell my Muslim friends and my Jewish friends and others that I’m not here to tell them to adopt my faith…but to live in their faith no matter what it is. Faith is a foundation to my worldview.

I’m really blessed with a wife of 50 years, who is a mother of three and grandmother to nine. I hope we are leaving a legacy about the importance of family.

Regarding friends…when I moved my office home I realized that my wife had good friends and I had mostly contacts. My list is probably 6,000 people. I would sit in my office and hear her on the phone laughing, crying, listening…and I thought “Hmmm…I want more of that.” So I picked 12 or so people that I had known over the years. And I now have a phone call or coffee with them if not monthly then every other month. These friendships have become so rich and fulfilling.

Is there a common thread you see when coaching clients?

Every conversation is different, but it all starts with self awareness. Then you need an accurate self assessment—a true understanding of your skills. And then there’s self confidence—you cannot be a leader if you don’t have confidence. I don’t mean arrogance. Self confidence is a healthy sense of who you are. I give my clients the children’s book “The Little Engine That Could”—I really do. That’s what a good leader has to say: not “Can I do this?” but, “I’ve never done this before.”

I help clients take incremental action steps in the direction of their goals. So many people can get stalled at the fork.

What are some of your favorite coaching tips?

Don’t use “I’m too busy,” as a constant excuse. The busier people are, the more leadership kicks in.

That said, we could save time if we quit doing so much online. One of the biggest enemies of leaders today is social media. It’s not a bad thing, but it will distract you. I suggest treating social media like an appointment—put it on your calendar but don’t be on it all day. If you have a doctor appointment at 10, you don’t stay there all day. So why would you stay on social media all day?

I tell people to say “No” to some things so that their “Yes” can be big.




Another leadership lesson: Use better verbs; Ask better questions. Leadership is less about what you know and more about what you need to know to move forward.

Ron taking a moment to relax at the Domain

What does Leadership Austin mean to our community?

When I think about Leadership Austin, I think of the next big leader. We have an abundant supply of leaders. What we as a leadership organization need are champion leaders.

If I were challenging the Leadership Austin class, I would say “Look for where you have a passion and where you think you could make a difference, but also look for a dysfunction that you could make function. Let’s take the dys out of function.

Advice for leaders who are trying to make a change?

The advice is similar no matter the experience, but sometimes age can get in the way. With a more mature leader they’ve got more to build on, but some older leaders have been taken out by a failure they just couldn’t overcome. You can’t let that get in the way. If you don’t talk about it, it becomes bigger than we realize. You’ve got to address what’s holding you back before you can move forward.

Thoughts on receiving this award?

I was certainly surprised. But it was also affirming. I thought, maybe someone sees my intent to create leaders and make a difference. Affirmation goes a long way. It’s a very nice thing.