Reflections on The Leadership Challenge Forum 2014

Research about and application of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® remains vibrant and growing, as all of us who attended last month’s The Leadership Challenge Forum 2014 in New Orleans are aware.  In fact, the focus of this year’s conference was specifically around the Practice of Challenge the Process. Recognizing, confronting and overcoming adversity were clearly key sub-themes that were addressed in nearly every breakout session, skill-building session, and the great keynotes. And everyone received a copy of Jim and Barry’s latest short-form book and e-book, Turning Adversity into Opportunity, which tied directly to the theme of the Forum (also providing evidence that, as usual, the authors had been doing their homework between conferences).

Here are a few other highlights and personal reflections from my experience this year:

1.         Two things I most appreciate about Jim and Barry’s approach:  they continue to do research to help us all keep learning; and then they provide us with relevant and actionable options—not impressive-sounding but unusable theory. The Leadership Challenge model and the annual Forums are truly geared toward Enabling Others to Act, not just providing interesting but non-applicable knowledge.

2.         Symbolically, New Orleans was a perfect location given what the people there have had to overcome throughout the past few years. No matter how much all of us outsiders think we might know about Katrina, the people of New Orleans (and the Gulf Coast) have had a much different experience than we can imagine. A remarkable and heartwarming sense of history and pride exists in that city.

3.         The Forum offered a number of terrific learning opportunities. Jim and Barry, once again, happily gave up the stage to a couple of other authors: Bill Treasurer, author of Courageous Leadership, shared lessons and insights from his ongoing work on leading with courage; Jennifer Robin, author of No Excuses and The Great Workplace, helped everyone learn about what it takes to create a great workplace. Courage is part of dealing with adversity and it takes courage to confront the unchallengeable norms in a workplace in order to make it better. I always appreciate being exposed to the additive work of other researchers and authors, which is so often a great benefit of attending The Leadership Challenge Forum.

4.         The closing activity was an example of experiential learning at its best. To be in New Orleans and have a jazz ensemble rocking the room would have been grand enough by itself. But along with some great music, we were able to learn some powerful lessons about New Orleans traditions and music, songwriting, and collaboration. It was amazing to watch how the energy level continued to soar and how that energy, along with the lessons learned, was harnessed into an immediate result. We learned, we delivered, and we thoroughly enjoyed. Imagine that combination in your workplace every day!

5.         This may be my most important reflection. If there is one value that was immensely modeled at the Forum, it was generosity. Jim and Barry were very accessible and generous with their time and knowledge. All of the speakers, including the breakout session leaders, were generous in sharing what they know and what they have learned. Master Facilitators looked forward to sharing what they could with attendees who wanted and needed advice and knowledge. And our host, Wiley Publishing, continued to show great generosity in supporting the Masters Give Back program.  Several leaders from nonprofit organizations in the New Orleans area were provided the gift of The Leadership Challenge® Workshop this year, thanks to the generosity of Wiley and the many Master Facilitators who donated time and money to support these deserving nonprofit leaders. It is a joy for me to see this value so abundantly displayed.

6.         My final reflection is this: The Leadership Challenge community is not just a group of people from around the world who enjoy common work and like to come together to socialize around it once a year. Rather, it is a well-intentioned, focused community whose members are all deeply committed to the work of leadership development. There is a real power in this community. For years, many of us have seen the impact The Leadership Challenge has had on individual people and organizations of all kinds. And this impact is expanding worldwide, including places like Asia, Africa, and Australia (to alliteratively name a few). There are members of the community devoted to helping students become exposed to leadership at earlier ages and, as a result, perhaps changing their futures forever. And consider this…there is Leadership Challenge work being done in the Middle East, which with time and its accumulating, visible results could actually become a factor for future peace and interdependence. It is a privilege to be part of a community that makes such a difference for so many people.

PS:  In 2015, we will gather in San Francisco, June 18–19, to continue strengthening our collective desire to grow leaders and, yes, even change the world. We extend a hearty welcome to all who want to join in on this wild and rewarding adventure. Visit www. leadershipchallengeforum.com often over the next several months for the latest information.

Steve Coats, a Leadership Challenge® Certified Master, is a managing partner and co-owner of International Leadership Associates, a leadership development education and consulting firm. For over 25 years, Steve has taught, coached, and consulted with executives and all levels of managers around the world in leadership development, team development, personal growth, change, and business strategy. Steve can be reached at stevec@i-lead.com

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