Leadership Life Hack

You may have heard of–or attended–a business training retreat or conference. These can be incredibly useful to learn more about the current business world, new developments in technology or social media and becoming aware of major trends in your marketplace. These conferences can help you understand where your market is headed and create new network connections. But what about a conference that was not only a tenth of the cost but also specifically to develop you-your career, the direction of your next 3-5 years and what you need to do to get from here to there? I’ve actually been doing these for several years now and the impact on my personal and professional life is astounding.

This year, I took a very good friend who is actually not a speaker. He doesn’t know my industry at all. In fact, he is an executive at the Cincinnati Opera. And we didn’t have to travel to another state or even hop on a plane. We simply drove an hour and a half to a large hotel nearby and pretended we were in another state. We spent two days together talking about our careers, our challenges, our personal lives, and the things we needed to challenge each other and hold each other accountable to.

This was not a vacation and we didn’t allow ourselves to treat it like one. We had a strict schedule and kept to it, meeting at 8:30 AM for breakfast and then working till 11 PM all the while talking about specific things we wanted to challenge ourselves on for the next year. The point of our discussion was to do an honest review of what’s worked and not worked for the past three years.

And just as this was not a vacation, this was not an aimless conversation between two old friends. We had specific questions prepared to ask each other and specific areas that we wanted to discuss and improve in. (I’ve included my list here for a jumping off point)

In order for you to get 10 times the value at 1/10th of the price of a business conference, I’ve included some criteria for you to make your own personal business retreat:

1. Pick someone that you can trust completely–someone with NO hidden agenda, someone outside your industry that can allow you a total safe zone to be honest about your personal and professional aspirations and areas for improvement.

2. Create a list of specific questions for each other–plan for this weekend like you would any other business event. Really think through where you struggled this past year and create conversation starters that allow you to focus on improving your weakest areas.

3. Set this on your calendar as a rock solid event–like you would any other conference. If you both don’t commit to this and take it seriously, then it’ll never happen.

4. Add to your calendar at least one conference call prior to the trip to discuss expectations for your time together.

5. Do this three times a year with three leaders in different industries and the value to your business and theirs will quickly become apparent. And for some, this will become a once a year event moving forward.

In review: We kicked off our event the moment we got in the car with our first open ended question at 8 AM on Friday, utilizing our hour and a half drive to jump start our retreat. And then, on the trip home Sunday night, we reviewed the benchmarks and notes (along with the way, we will hold each other accountable to our new goals moving forward). The place we picked was a place that had tons of things for us to do–shopping, restaurants, walking paths, workout facilities. So we were able to make our downtime less structured but still full of quality conversation.

As you look forward to your career in the future, take a look backwards as well. You may be quickly climbing the corporate ladder, but is your ladder leaning against the right building? Do you hate your life or are you living the dream? This life hack provides you a chance to check in with yourself before you climb too high.

Tell me about your plan for the next conference you attend where you truly are the star of the show.

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