Reflections From The 2015 Forum

On June 18 – 19, The Leadership Challenge Forum 2015 was held. The purpose of this annual event is to promote the growth and development of leaders in all aspects of life.  It is a remarkable continuing education experience for users and practitioners of The Leadership Challenge methodology, and for that matter, anyone interested in developing leaders. This year’s theme was Cultivating a Culture of Leadership Development. Let me offer why this topic may be at the core of effective, ongoing development efforts of any kind.

thAXWKM09PImagine taking a dingy-looking goldfish out of a bowl of dirty water. You scrub it down and shine It up. In short order, you practically have a brand new goldfish. Then, you put it back in the same nasty water and wonder why it is back to its old grimy self in two or three days.

How unfortunately accurate the goldfish dilemma is in the world of development. People go to an outstanding workshop or conference, where they become re-inspired, learn new and usable skills, and leave resoundingly committed to become more effective in their work. (They get scrubbed and cleaned.) And within a couple of weeks, they are often right back to the same behaviors, and attitudes from before.  Why? The systems and environment to which they go back (the dirty water) have not changed, and are seductively working to ensure the new behaviors never even get a chance to take root and blossom. With little or no support, encouragement, coaching or incentive to continue to practice new skills and experiment with different behaviors, people naturally drift back to the way they were.

For organizations to grow leaders, capable of running the business today and moving it forward tomorrow, there must be a culture supporting leadership development. It is impossible for anything to grow, plants in a garden, or leadership in an organization, if there is not an environment which fosters and produces growth.

So, the goal of this year’s conference was to help everyone better understand how important culture is for sustainable leadership growth, and what it takes to create that kind of positive culture. Following are some personal observations and highlights from this valuable experience.

1. Authors Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner once again reinforced how the best leaders continue to be lifelong learners, and that a culture of leadership has at its core, a value of learning. And as usual, they modeled their message. The entire Forum was structured to create a massive learning environment, with people from around the world sharing their lessons learned, and offering proven practices and novel ideas with total unselfishness. New technology was deployed in the general sessions to facilitate large scale idea exchange. And if you looked closely enough, you would even see the authors taking notes during some of the sessions. Learning at the Forum was not just a noble sounding aspiration, it was happening naturally – and intentionally.

How much better all organizations would be, if they would actively embrace this kind of insatiable appetite for learning, and then create the environments to ensure it occurs.

2. As in years past, the authors of The Leadership Challenge were willing to share the stage with others, and this year it was with one of the foremost authorities on organization culture, Edgar Schein. In a down-home style conversation with the attendees, Ed shared some truly thought-provoking insights about the topic. Although a Harvard Ph. D, and a former MIT Sloan Fellow professor, his message was real world, relevant and practical. There was an enormous amount of buzz about the value of Ed’s remarks.

I always appreciate the chance to hear informative and wise perspectives from guests at the Forum. Ed’s participation this year was a special gift.

3. Jim and Barry previewed their newest thinking which is the subject of their still unnamed book in process. It focuses on five fundamentals required for real and lasting improvement. And in typical Kouzes Posner manner, the lessons were simple to understand, and immediately applicable by anyone.

I am convinced that, at least in the leadership development space, there is no one even close to matching the ongoing research – and learning efforts of these two authors.

4. The fast growing efforts of developing the next generation of leaders was very evident this year. There were groups of attendees from school systems in Texas and Arkansas, along with a number of others who are working with students and faculties. They are all seeking how to create the culture which invites and encourages students to begin the process of leadership development, while still in school.

It is exciting to see the increasing array of outstanding Student Leadership Challenge resources, dedicated to this effort. And, from what I see, the world needs more and more younger people, willing and equipped to step up to address the tough challenges confronting them, and the rest of us.

5. My last observation is this. Most of us who have devoted our lives to leadership development find great joy in experiencing, first hand, the growth of people. This really stuck out for me this year. There are people on the staff of our gracious host, Wiley Publishing, who in the past have been taking care of the zillions of really important details that occur mostly out of sight. Today they are responsible for much bigger and more important outcomes, both at the Forum and on a day to day basis. And they have stepped up. How exciting and rewarding to see their growth, and to directly benefit from it.

And, there is also a continuous pipeline of people engaged in the process of developing the knowledge and expertise to achieve the level of Certified Master Facilitator.  Almost all of them I see only once a year (at the Forum), however many I have known since their first connections with The Leadership Challenge. Today, those who have accomplished their goal are confident, polished, capable, and contributing leaders in The Leadership Challenge community. Their growth is striking.

The progress and development of these friends and colleagues may be the greatest evidence of all about the power of an effective culture. The aspiring Master Facilitators are part of a system which challenges and supports them. They are given real opportunities to step up, and they hold themselves accountable to themselves – and their fellow community members.  They have formal mentors, and at the same time dozens of others who are freely offering advice, hands-on help, and lots of encouragement. Everyone wants everyone else to be the best version of themselves they can be, and to succeed in all aspects of their lives.

Perhaps our individual and collective successes will ultimate be measured by the number of organizations we can touch, and help build the kind of leadership cultures they need to help their own people develop and excel in similar ways.  What a great job it is to help organizations make this happen.

And finally, two thumbs up to Mr. Tom Pearce for receiving the Star Award. Well deserved, Tom. You are a role model of the willingness to serve others.

Share Your Thoughts