Troy Johnson Reinvents Himself

Southern Education Foundation CFO and COO Troy Johnson learned valuable leadership development skills while participating in Mastering Leadership Dynamics.

Southern Education Foundation CFO and COO Troy Johnson learned valuable leadership development skills while participating in Mastering Leadership Dynamics™

Troy Johnson admitted he was initially apprehensive before participating in the Mastering Leadership Dynamics program.

The five-day leadership development program takes a psychology-based approach to helping business owners, CEOs and senior executives understand their beliefs and how these beliefs shape their behavior. Participants explore ways to increase their effectiveness and learn how to manage through conflict. And they connect with other leaders in the program inside and outside of the facilitator-led sessions.

“I’d never done anything like this in my career,” said Johnson, the CFO and COO of the Atlanta-based Southern Education Foundation(opens in a new tab), which helps communities of color and low-income students to advance equity in K-12 and postsecondary education in the South. “The idea of spending a week of concentrated focus on what type of leader I am, what type of person I am and what my strengths and weaknesses are – I was a little nervous about what that exploration would look like.”

His apprehension, however, was short-lived.

“After the first half of the first day of the program, those things became much less of a concern,” he said. 

Troy Johnson, CFO and COO, Southern Education Foundation

Johnson attributes his sense of comfort to Mastering Leadership Dynamics’ being a group activity. The seven other participants in Johnson’s program were all accomplished business leaders who were striving for the same goal: professional self-improvement. “Also, the program is well thought out, well researched and anchored in provable facts,” said Johnson. “It did feel a little weird at times, but in the end, all of the dots connected.

“I appreciated the thoughtfulness of The Leadership Institute in putting the program together,” he said. “The facilitators did a fantastic job of making everyone feel comfortable and creating a physical space for everyone to learn about themselves and become more self-aware. I was most surprised at how much change can happen in such a short time. I think the program will make a lasting impact.”


Troy Johnson

“The facilitators did a fantastic job of making everyone feel comfortable and creating a physical space for everyone to learn about themselves and become more self-aware. I was most surprised at how much change can happen in such a short time." Troy Johnson, CFO and COO, Southern Education Foundation

Introducing Troy Johnson 2.0

Since participating in Mastering Leadership Dynamics for five days in September, Johnson has returned to the Southern Education Foundation with a new perspective about himself and his work environment. As a result, he has made substantial changes in how he manages his time, communicates with coworkers and supports the nonprofit organization’s mission.

These changes include: 


For years, Johnson had maintained an open-door policy at the Southern Education Foundation. It was popular with his coworkers, but some of them took advantage of the policy to “hang out or vent about something that was bothering them at the moment.” During Mastering Leadership Dynamics, Johnson realized the open-door policy was a mistake. “People would feel good because they’d vented, but I wasn’t being as effective as I wanted to be.” 

Communication skills

During a Mastering Leadership Dynamics exercise, Johnson realized that when he communicates with colleagues and encounters pushback, his initial reaction is “to please the people around me.” Unfortunately, that ingrained impulse led him to sometimes say what people wanted to hear, not what they actually needed to hear. “Now, I make sure I communicate exactly what I need to say.”

Talent management

Mastering Leadership Dynamics places a premium on increasing participants’ self-awareness so they better understand their behavior. While examining his own behavior, Johnson realized that he often didn’t recognize when colleagues were playing games, figuratively speaking, at work. This lack of recognition was causing him, and others, to needlessly spin their wheels. “Now, when people start playing games, I make sure we stay on track,” said Johnson. “That’s completely new.” 

Change management

The Southern Education Foundation has a new president and CEO, Raymond C. Pierce, and one of his main initiatives is to change the organization’s culture. Thanks to Mastering Leadership Dynamics, Johnson better understands his role as CFO and COO in ensuring this culture change occurs as smoothly as possible. “Now, I talk a lot about our mission and values—those things that have a long-term effect on an organization,” said Johnson. “I wouldn’t have done that without attending the program.”  

Career development

For Johnson, one of his pivotal moments in Mastering Leadership Dynamics occurred when he was tasked with asking himself, “What do I want to do next as a leader?” Johnson has been in his current role at the Southern Education Foundation for nearly 12 years. The question made him realize that he eventually wants to be the president and CEO of a nonprofit organization. “The process of Mastering Leadership Dynamics helped me realize I could do it and, more importantly, I have the desire.”

A reward for good deeds

Troy Johnson’s path to participating in Mastering Leadership Dynamics was different than most of the high-level executives who sign up for the program.

In effect, he was rewarded for his community service in the Atlanta area.

For the last 12 years, the Atlanta Business Chronicle(opens in a new tab) and the Association for Corporate Growth Atlanta(opens in a new tab) have presented CFO of the Year Awards as a way to recognize Atlanta’s financial superstars.

Johnson was nominated as CFO of the Year in the community service category, which “honors a chief financial officer who has made outstanding efforts to serve the broader Atlanta community through voluntary work outside of a paid position.” At that time, Johnson served on the board of directors for Live Thrive Atlanta(opens in a new tab), Roswell Arts Fund(opens in a new tab) and East Lake Family YMCA(opens in a new tab), often acting as board treasurer.

Johnson was selected as one of the three CFO finalists for community service. Although he didn’t win the CFO of the Year award (“It’s a great opportunity to be recognized. I appreciated the consideration,” he said), BB&T presented Johnson and other nominees with scholarships to participate in Mastering Leadership Dynamics.

Johnson hadn’t heard of Mastering Leadership Dynamics before, but now that he’s experienced the program, “I think nonprofits could also benefit from having their leaders participate in it,” he said. “I’ve told quite a few people they should check out the program.”  

Take the next step

For more information about Mastering Leadership Dynamics or other programs, please call 336-665-3300 or email us at

Mastering Leadership Dynamics

The BB&T Leadership Institute’s flagship program, Mastering Leadership Dynamics, helps leaders increase their leadership abilities by becoming more aware of their beliefs and behavior and learning how to better build and manage relationships and communicate more effectively.

Program Basics

Audience: CEOs, executives and senior leaders

Duration: 5 days, Monday through Friday

Price: $8,450

Location: The Kelly S. King Center
Greensboro, North Carolina

By Jack Rosenberger

Photography courtesy Troy Johnson and Mark Waggoner

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