Leadership Retreat

“Leadership Retreat” is common term many of us have either heard or perhaps we have been fortunate to attend one. Since joining Dave Ramsey’s company in 2001, I’ve been able to attend 2 leadership retreats held by Dave and our executive team. I’ve also been able to coordinate 3 for my own team the third of which was held 2 weeks ago.

What is a Leadership Retreat?

“Leadership Retreat” can mean a host of things. In some cases like AIG, it means “get away to a spa, spend a lot of money, get pampered and celebrate…Oh. Don’t forget create a lot of bad PR”. For others, it means taking a break from the day to day and take time to bond with other leaders in the company. Still another version would be to take a break from the chaos so the leadership team can focus on discussing specific problems, goals, and strategy. If you’ve never been part of or considered holding a leadership retreat, it might be helpful dissect the terms.

lea-der-ship: (1) the position or function of a leader, (2) ability to lead, (3)an act or instance of leading; guidance; direction, (4) the leaders of a group

re-treat: a place of refuge, seclusion, or privacy

No matter what version of the leadership retreat you favor, it’ll be worthwhile. I’ve found every one I’ve been part of to be very refreshing and a great tool to draw the team closer together. Personally, I prefer a mixture of bonding and work as opposed to all play.

Past Retreats

The main goal of previous retreats were to discuss new website designs. However we were able to mix in a little fun as well. Retreat #1 had us down at Dave Ramsey’s lake house for a couple of days while Retreat #2 took us to a cabin in Gatlinburg. While those were great trips, they didn’t quite measure up to this year.

This Retreat

The 2010 retreat was actually planned for last year, but we weren’t able to follow through in 2009 due to our new website project. With that behind us, it’s was time to talk about some new vision for the team.

My goals for the retreat were rather light compared to past goals. Our team has grown quite a bit over the last few years. Through that growth it’s harder to stay in contact with the core team. This naturally can create a disconnect between a team’s leader and the team. An simpler way to state that would be “layers of separation”. It’s easy to get disconnected from the core problems the team is facing. By getting a large group of the leadership team together (10 of us made it on this trip), I wanted to allow them to just talk and share the challenges they think the team is facing. The discussion was solid.

One specific topic seemed to resonate with everyone and it was clear that it was a passionate topic. Vision. What is the vision for where we are going? What is the vision for what we are doing? What is the vision for the projects that are coming our way? How can we do good work if we haven’t been given the vision for what we are working on? I thing for most organizations this isn’t a big deal. For many company’s work is just a J-O-B. Come in. Do your work. Go home.Well, as a result of this leadership retreat Vision Casting is once again on my radar. If you are interested in this, check out Making Vision Stick by Andy Stanley.

The other thing we hit on pretty hard was Culture. Maintaining the culture of our team and improving it is crucial for our continued growth and success. As company’s grow, many of them face a culture crisis. Tons of books exist on this phenomenon, and it can end a great company. Zappos is a company that really focuses on sustaining their culture. They’ve done a pretty good job of it since 2000. They’ve actually maintained it so well that they’ve been able to grow from a startup in 2000 to a $1 billion company in 2009. Culture didn’t get them to a billion alone, but it was a huge part of their success. Lots of books on the topic, but you might check out 4 Obesessions of an Extraordinary Executive by Patrick Lencioni as starter material.

What I love about our company is that as we grow in company size and face challenges, we try to solve them. If there is a problem, there must be a better way. We just have to make sure we recognize the problems. One of the interesting things about problems is not every leader recognizes the same problems.

By getting our leadership team together and having open conversation, we can get at some issues and move forward. I’m blessed to have a team that is pretty open, but it takes some work. Many leadership teams are not open. Fear is often be a hindrance to a leadership teams ability to function. Fear of rejection. Fear of reputation damage. Fear of failure. I love the book 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.

So that was about it for the work part on Friday night as we wrapped up at 1:00 AM. It was time to rest up for whitewater rafting on Saturday. Not much to say about that except it was fun. Enjoy the pictures.

Location: Ocoee near Cleveland Tennessee. Rafting company: Ocoee Outdoors

Boat #1 – Guide: Sarah, Boat: Sarahdepedity (named by the crew)

Boat #2 – Guide: Extreme Sports Guy and former AT&T worker Boat: Extreme (later renamed to “Where’s Matt?”)


Going Forward

One thing that hit me during this last retreat is that I’ve now been part of 5 (2 participating and 3 that I’ve led). Even though I’ve been part of 5 retreats, it has been over a 10 year period. This last time around I noticed that I’m still following a very similar structure. Perhaps I haven’t evolved enough. This made perfect sense to me when you consider that improvements usually come iteratively. The more you do something the more you learn. During each “cycle” you have opportunity to evolve, but if the cycles are spread too far apart, perhaps we fall back on our old model rather than asking “what will I do differently this time”.

Well, I have changed a little each time. Better agenda. More feedback from my leaders prior to setting up the retreat. Better planning of the event. But could I have evolved even more? That’s just the question I was asking myself during this last retreat. So what did I do? I went to Amazon.com of course and I found this book. Retreats That Work: Everything You Need to Know About Planning and Leading Great Offsites. No I haven’t read it yet so don’t ask for a review. 🙂

Books for Success, Patrick Lencioni

As with any leader, we must strive to improve our abilities or risk becoming obsolete as our company grows. One of the great things about working for Dave Ramsey is the emphasis on growth. Again I reference Maxwell’s “Law of the Lid”.

A friend of mine, Allen Harris, is a big fan of Patrick Lencioni. Patrick’s works on business applicable fiction have proven to be a great addition to my leadership library. Here are few of his titles that have proved valuable to me. Lencioni’s writing style is entertaining, educating and thought provoking.

5 Dysfunctions of a Team – highlights how even the best teams fail to communicate openly about tough topics. Provides a method for getting your team to open up and address real issues in a dynamic way.

Death by Meeting – every company deals with meetings. Some do a better job with meetings than others, but without a doubt, every business leader could use some help in this area. Death by Meeting provides some great guidelines on running productive meetings.

Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars – we’ve all dealt with it…business leaders protecting their turf. It’s not conducive to business growth, and it definitely doesn’t help with morale. Lencioni lends his ideas on how to bring a company closer together.

Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive – fairly self explanatory. Lencioni shares some thoughts on key elements to keep a company on the same page, maintain culture and communicate effectively.

If you haven’t read any of Patrick’s work, I highly recommend put a few on your short list.