The Best Conference I’ve Ever Been To #ELSummit14

Last year, I went to the Extreme Leadership Intensive here in Des Moines, IA. I met Steve Farber, who is not only the author of The Radical Leap and founder of the Extreme Leadership Institute, but he’s also a real down-to-earth guy.

Extreme Leadership can be summed up as “do what you love in the service of people who love what you do.” It’s about the challenge of changing the world, whether that’s the entire world or the world of your customers, company, or co-workers.

It’s about love, which many other leadership books would call vision or passion. You can’t do your best work if your heart isn’t in it. And you won’t be able to generate the enthusiasm from other people who might otherwise be willing to support your endeavor.

And it’s about the fear. If you’re not doing something that scares you, then you’re not living up to your full potential, which means you’re holding back in this one life you have to live. If you’re doing what you love, then it is intensely personal, and it should scare you and everyone else that you’re trying to make a difference. Otherwise, you’re not leading.

Love and fear? It’s the exhilaration you feel in interplay between these opposites that shows you that you’re doing what you should in life. If you let fear get in the way, however, you’ll have a different experience.

Larry Smith talks about it in this TED talk on why you will fail to have a great career:

So, a couple of weekends ago, I went to the Extreme Leadership Summit, which Farber has repeatedly said would be a unique experience. It wouldn’t be a passive conference, with sales pitches and feel-good platitudes that leave you no better off than when you arrived. It would prove to be interactive and challenging, practical and immediate, and full of amazing and approachable people who are walking the talk in their own lives.

Extreme Leadership Summit 2014

And as a result, I think it was the best conference I’ve ever been to. And I’ve been to GDC, which is a spectacle onto itself. I’m still processing everything I learned and experienced a week later.

Day 1: Deepening Your Leadership Foundation

The first speaker was Simon Billsberry, and his presentation was all about answering the question of whether or not being an entrepreneur is the same as being an extreme leader. He said, “Entrepreneurs know who they are” and talked about how he plans to help accelerate the pace of change in we had a discussion afterwards about the nature of entrepreneurship. It was too bad he was sick for the rest of the summit because I was looking forward to hearing more.

Billsberry said the fundamental leadership question is “What can I do, right now, regardless of what others around here are or are not doing, to change my piece of this world/company/organization for the better?”

Chad Coe is a wealth management expert who wrote The Power of Peopletizing: Networking Your Way to an Abundant Life, which was provided for free in the goodie bag at the summit. He spoke quite a bit about how connecting with others and maintaining relationships with them can result in so much capacity to help.

Coe has a big philanthropic streak in him. He organized his work time to ensure he can not only spend time with his family but can also participate in a number of charities, many of which he founded with the idea of “If you want something, create it.”

He gave many inspiring examples of the amount of help he is able to provide due to the way he motivates his relationships. For the three days of the summit, our tables at lunch were our mastermind groups, something else he strongly advocates for, and everyone had a fascinating story to tell about their experience and their struggles, and everyone had actionable advice to give.

Darren Hardy, publisher of SUCCESS magazine and author of The Compound Effect, talked about the power of repeated, consistent actions on achieving your goals. He said that the secret to success is in three words: “hard frickin’ work.” He gave the example of doubling the grains of rice each day for 60 days as evidence for how subtle yet powerful the compound effect is. After 10 days, you’d only have 512 grains, and at 20 you’d have 524,288, but at 30? You’d have 536,870,912.

He then talked about how many of our beneficial activities, such as exercising or investing, don’t pay off immediately. We don’t have immediate consequences for eating dessert for dinner or being lazy on the couch on evening, but over 20 years, daily dessert and laziness results in health issues. Similarly, having a fight with your spouse and going to bed angry once doesn’t immediately result in divorce, but resentment and disappointment builds up over time before it comes to a head.

He gave an example with three otherwise similar people who get the same job. One does what he always did. One eats just 250 calories less a day, walks 250 extra steps a day, reads for 15 minutes and listens to inspiring audio for 30 minutes at the start of his day, etc. The last one eats 250 extra calories a day, walks 250 fewer steps a day, and otherwise does the opposite of the second guy. After only six months, you wouldn’t see a difference between them, which is what frustrates people and makes magic pills and diets and secrets to success so appealing to them. The results aren’t immediate. Drinking water instead of eating chocolate cake basically feels like you’re just missing out on delicious cake.

But after five years? The three have such different experiences from each other. One has read hundreds of books and listened to hundreds of positive and inspiring audio programs and has lost tens of pounds of weight as a result of eating less and exercising more. The other gained weight and has the health issues that come with a sedentary lifestyle, and he has learned a lot less, resulting in less interesting prospects for his life. The compound effects of your small choices sneak up on you to create big results. Another way to put it is that you either pay for your results through discipline or through regret. Missing out on that chocolate cake now sounds like a more freeing and enjoyable life is possible.

Day 2: Amplifying Your Life Experience

The next morning, Pamela Slim, author of Escape from Cubicle Nation, said that your purpose in life is to create a body of work that you are proud of. She had incredible enthusiasm for the stories we each had, since creating a body of work starts with our roots and the identification of our skills and experience. Who we are drives what we’re passionate about, and being true to it is the only way we can really tell our story. And she signed my copy of her recent book, Body of Work. B-)

Pete Luongo, retired CEO of The Berry Company, signed my copy of his book, 10 Truths About Leadership…It’s Not Just About Winning. He talked about how so much of what they realized and developed years ago to turn around the company, and what businesses literature has covered decades prior, has come into vogue recently, such as focusing on the customer. He said to me the day before, “Franco, it’s all common sense.”

Frank DeAngelis didn’t leave a dry eye in the room as he shared his experience as Principal of Columbine High School. It’s now 15 years after the tragedy, and he talked about his efforts since to reach out to all students and to ensure that he can see everyone who was in elementary school on the day of the shooting walk across the stage as a graduate of the high school, which was accomplished a few years ago. He got a standing ovation, and I’m sure his school will miss his passion and enthusiasm for the children and their education when he retires.

Janet Bray Attwood, author of The Passion Test and member of my mastermind group during the summit, has an infectious excitement about her. My favorite quote from her presentation: “When you are faced with a choice, decision, or opportunity, choose in favor of your passions.” Between that thought and the idea of talking about the higher purpose of your work, what you really do, I thought it was the most subtle and challenging mode of operation mentioned. As part of her presentation, she had us administer the Passion Test to a fellow participant, and I found it surprisingly clarifying.

To wrap up the day, Jay Jay French, manager and guitarist of Twisted Sister, shared his life and business lessons as the group persevered for a decade before signing a record deal, which once again demonstrated that everyone has an interesting story to tell. He also participated in my mastermind group for one day, talking about where he wants to grow next since the band is still playing concerts today, decades later.

That night, there was what Farber jokingly referred to as the real reason for the Summit: the Extreme Jam Session and Open Mic. Attendees and speakers were invited to perform and sing. I sang one song, Long Cool Woman by The Hollies, and I got to hear some really talented musicians have a great time on stage.

Day 3: Transforming Your Results at Work

The final day started with the magic of Andrew Bennett. He was a personal assistant of Ross Perot, became a member of The Magic Circle, and is a leadership consultant and coach. Using illusions to wow us, he shared with us that transformation happens in three ways: appearance (revealing the truth), disappearance (concealing a deeper truth), and restoration (replacing something with something of greater value). These three transformations occur through six creative powers: inspiration, words, self-awareness, relationships, authenticity, and mastery. He learned during research for a blog post that the seemingly silly and popular magic word “Abracadabra” is actually Aramaic for “What I speak is what I create,” which was relevant to the power of words to restrict or unleash creativity. He gave each attendee an orange wristband with the word and translation.

Phil Town is the author of Rule #1, a book about a simple investing strategy. I have to admit that I initially got quite interested in his presentation, which explained how mutual funds are a bad deal since you are paying managers who consistently can’t seem to beat the market on returns, which is something I already knew which is why I’m more interested in index funds if I had to choose. He explained that consistently successful investors exist, such as Warren Buffett, and their success is based on simple strategies.

He also talked about the idea that where you invest your money equates to your support for those investments. For example, if you don’t smoke and don’t want your children to smoke, why would you invest in any of most mutual funds since it means you’ll necessarily have money supporting the source of most cigarettes in the market? Makes sense to me, and I know people who won’t invest in index funds because it means investing in weapon manufacturers, for instance.

That said, I found myself feeling a bit strange. Here we were at this amazing conference being told consistently that identifying your love and passion is key, and it seemed most people in the audience were getting the most excited about the idea of relatively easy and consistently high returns in the stock market. Granted, Town’s wealth opens up quite the capacity to give back and live an abundant life, and he talked about investing only in companies that match your values. Still, it felt very much like I was ultimately getting a pitch to subscribe to his service which provides the info to make investment decisions the way he described. Talking to my mastermind group, it seemed I might have been alone in that assessment as everyone else felt the offered intensive course in Atlanta to learn the ins and outs of the strategy was an amazing opportunity. I hope it works out for the people who go. I have plans scheduled for that weekend.

Dr. Tasha Eurich is an organizational psychologist and author of Bankable Leadership: Happy People, Bottom Line Results, and the Power to Deliver Both. Her presentation was about what it takes to create fulfilled teams and exceptional results, that it wasn’t an either-or proposition. When striving for success here, she said you (1) know where you stand, (2) make one change at a time, and (3) be obsessed about relentless, deliberate practice.

We ended the summit with a Q & A speaker panel, and the final good-bye was said with champagne.

Extreme Leadership Summit Speaker Panel

Extreme Conclusions

There were a few themes that kept coming up throughout the summit. One was the idea of being clear on your why, both for yourself and for the people around you.

Another was the idea that your adversity is your advantage, that your past developed muscles, not wounds.

Another was the idea of being conscious and deliberate with your life. Whether it is investing or how you choose to spend time with your family, being fully aware of what you are doing and the consequences is the only moral thing to do.

Most of the speakers also attended the summit. They weren’t just there to talk and leave. I had conversations with quite a few of them, as they were all quite approachable and ready to connect. A few made supportive comments when they learned I wanted to make educational entertainment to encourage creativity, curiosity, and critical thinking.

In fact, quite a few attendees, many who are educators, came up to me and expressed their support, offering advice or asking for more information. The idea of talking about what you really do, that everyone has an interesting story to share, and that you should choose in favor of your passion seemed to pay off immediately.

Steve Farber and the lovely Dianne Kenny were at both the intensive and this summit, and it was good to see them again. Kenny is very clearly a fun and positive person to be around, and she celebrated her birthday with us on the first day. I’m not sure how many people chose water over the delicious cake that was provided.

One thing that struck me was how warm the summit was. When Farber thanked everyone who was involved in making the summit a success, I realized it was very much a family-run business. I met his wife who I had only spoken with on the phone, and she recognized my name and gave me a hug. It seemed many of the people behind the scenes were related in some way. Everyone had an enthusiasm that demonstrated how much they believed in what the organization stands for.

And that’s probably the biggest thing I took away. I thought a lot about what impact I’m having in the world. Based on how I spend my time and where I expend my effort, am I similarly demonstrating how much I believe in what I stand for? Or am I allowing fear and momentum to hold me back, doing a disservice to myself and to the countless people who might be positively impacted by my efforts if I only focused and dedicated more time to it?

And that kind of deep questioning is why I think the Extreme Leadership Summit was the best conference I have ever attended.

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