I can still remember my very first leadership conference experience. It was a large arena filled with over 10,000 people. I had my notebook ready, taking copious notes from speakers I admired and wanted to emulate. I attended every session, strengthened friendships with the team who traveled to the conference with me and took home lots of free swag.
I replicated this experience again and again over the years. At that conference and others, it was all about the content, the speakers, my notes, and the “holy cow, this is like drinking from a fire hose” experience.
Why I Stopped Attending Conferences
A little over two years ago, though, I moved into a new role with a new organization where I am now the senior leader. As I navigated this new position and attended a couple conferences with our team, I began to realize my conference experience just didn’t cut it anymore.
I discovered I could buy all the conference talks for 1/3 of the ticket price of the event. I looked back and discovered how many connections and friendships I missed out on by never skipping any sessions. And I realized the challenges I faced weren’t going to be answered by being a passive listener in a workshop.
If conferences weren’t cutting it, what was the answer?
From Conferences to Coaching
As I was remarking on my challenge with a friend, he told me he felt like I needed a coach, not a conference. Ironically, I had just received a promotional email from an expert in my field about a new coaching network targeted at leaders of organizations in my size range.
That coaching network affirmed shifts we needed to make in our organization and steps I needed to take as a leader. The six months we spent together held me accountable to make difficult decisions and grow in uncomfortable ways. I also started working with a speaking coach and a writing coach during that period. These three relationships would transform the way I lead, speak and write – all in one year.
The reach of my writing more than doubled. The level of engagement of my talks increased dramatically. And I found my footing as the senior leader of our organization.
When I look back on what I learned and how I changed in this process, I see the stark differences between what coaching made possible for me that conferences could not.
Different Tools for Different Times
Conferences are more about knowledge and coaching is application-oriented.
Conferences are network-optional, but coaching is driven by relationships.
Conferences offer little accountability for action, whereas coaching is all about accountability. Conferences are cheaper, so we skip sessions. In coaching, you’re paying a lot, so commitment and engagement go up.
I still attend a conference here and there. In fact, I recently had my best conference experience ever, and I’ll be back again next year. But, these experiences with coaching have transformed the way I influence others, as I lead, write, and speak. I would be dying on the vine if I wasn’t for my coaches!
Sometimes, we step into a leadership opportunity which demands of us more than we’ve ever given before now. As Stanley noted above, we owe it to those who are following our lead and listening to our words to push our lid as high as we can.
A conference might leave us with lots of wisdom, but coaching will turn the wisdom of others into actions we will take.
Our breakthroughs often come on the other side of relationships and conversations we’ve been unwilling to have, but desperately need.