After the Leadership Conference – Now What?

After the Leadership Conference ... Now What?

I develop leaders.

I speak at conferences.

I attend conferences.


This week, I attended the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. Lot’s of enthusiasm and inspiration, great talks and encouraging moments. I took my family and 5 of my honors students. We found the experience exciting and energizing. Like many others, that is why we go. It is an emotional thrill, and leaders need a leadership lift whenever we can get one.

Many of the speakers acknowledged this kind of event is a REMINDER event. We need to hear what we already know, and be inspired again to plug away, stay the course, and lead well. And often we gain a new insight or have an “aha!” moment. These are truly valuable.

But what happens after the thrill is gone? It is the age-old conference dilemma. In a few days the buzz is gone, the notebook goes on the shelf, the twitter frenzy dies down and people return to the same challenges, problems, lousy bosses, fundraising shortfalls and HR headaches.

Am I being pessimistic? Should we stop going to conferences? NO! Let me be clear. I love conferences! I love speaking at them and going to them! I love hanging with other leaders and getting to know their stories, successes and challenges. This is essential for every leader!

But here is what you must NEVER do. Never confuse…

leadership talks with leadership development,

inspiration with perspiration,

insight with action.

That is why I like apprentice models for developing leaders. One of the speakers at the Summit modeled exactly what we all need to be doing as leaders – DEVELOPING OTHER LEADERS! It was Oscar Muriu from Nairobi Kenya.

Here was a leader not just giving a great talk (which he did) but also investing in young leaders. I know many leaders who never apprentice anyone. These are “tell-you” leaders not “show-you” leaders. These are “go-do” leaders not “come-with” leaders. If you ever have a choice, spend your time with show-you leaders.

Oscar’s leadership will multiply for decades to come, while others will see their influence dwindle. They rely on “addition” models, versus “multiplication” models of leadership, building their own influence instead of building the influence of others. But don’t large numbers matter? Yes, at some level. But large numbers will always be a deceptive gauge for judging lasting success. Here’s why.

The Addition Model of leadership starts big, but ends small. It is unsustainable.

The Multiplication Model of leadership starts small, and ends big…if it ends at all. It is unstoppable.

So why do we do so little leadership development and so much leadership talking? Maybe we have confused poor leadership training with real development. We all have training manuals on our desks. Some was good, but too much was poorly executed and modeled. Training itself is not a bad idea. Every good athlete trains.  Training has a bad rap. So maybe we gave up on anything like it.

Here is a great article about leader development from Mike Myatt in Forbes. He contrasts training with development. I care less about what we call it and more about what we are doing. I am an advocate for apprenticing whether you call it “training” or “development.” But this short post is worth the time!

The #1 Reason Leadership Development Fails

Let’s come together and actually build into each other and model the behaviors we are seeking, and get real change, real growth and real leadership multiplication.

You want to be a better house builder? Here are two approaches.

1) Read 5 books on house-building strategies, go to a conference for one weekend where the greatest house-builders talk about the joys and challenges of house-building, hear testimonies from house buyers, and purchase house-building videos in the conference lobby.

2) Read 5 books on house building and apprentice with some experienced house-builders who are actually building great houses and work alongside them for one year.

QUESTION: Would you rather buy a house from a builder using strategy #1 or #2? Would you rather learn to build houses using strategy #1 or #2?

(If you said #1 then stop reading here and go watch an infomercial.)

The research on the ineffectiveness of “content dump” for training or teaching is overwhelming. Most information is barely remembered and almost never used. If you have couple minutes, here is an article about teaching for real knowledge retention. And this is only dealing with classroom learning, nowhere near the level of learning needed to be an effective leader!

Applying the Science of Learning to the University and Beyond

Events are short-lived, but do create energy, offer chances to do networking and provide exposure to new information. But they do not develop leaders. A conference makes money, but leader development takes money (and time). Doing an event for 1,000 people will always be easier than training 10 rising leaders. But the results 10 years later will speak for themselves.

Do you use an “addition model” of leadership? Always recruiting but never multiplying? 

Are you becoming a “show-you” leader or are you just a “tell-you” leader?

Are you working on a great leadership talk, or are you working to build a great leadership culture?



Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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