ATD Conference May 2016 2048x1536

Last month, I had the most amazing experience at the annual conference of the Association for Training and Development. Ten thousand people attended and hundreds of vendors were present, each with a product or service useful for developing talent. The conference venue itself was so huge that walking from the entrance to the overflow ballroom for the opening keynote garnered nearly 3,000 steps on my Fitbit—30% of my daily goal! As someone passionate about learning and teaching, I was in heaven.


Leadership is like exercise

Simon Sinek, leadership and management consultant and author of the popular book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, told us leadership is like exercise—you don’t know how long it’s going to take for results to show up. Just as with completing 10,000 steps/day, it takes time.

Sinek recommends starting your leadership journey by taking small steps. He gave examples, such as pressing the open button on an elevator as someone is rushing to get on instead of blithely  hitting “close,” and shrugging your shoulders as the doors nearly decapitate the person trying to join you onboard. Also, how about making a pot of coffee for your workmates rather than leaving a tablespoon of coffee in the carafe forcing the next person to make a fresh pot before having his cup o’ joe. Practice the small stuff, he advised, and you will get better at being a leader. Becoming a leader isn’t an event; it’s a process. It takes time and it takes perseverance.

I certainly concur with this advice. In my coaching career, I have only turned down one potential client—a physician who thought by paying me, I would dub him a Knight of the Leadership Round Table. He wasn’t willing to invest the time and hard work or start from where he was at the time instead of at the top.


Making onboarding fun

Back to training and development in a broader sense. Gamification continues to be popular. Jonathan Ellis, at the time the Senior Training Specialist at University Health System in San Antonio, started his session with a rousing game of rock-paper-scissors until there was a single winner out of the 200-300 people present. He wanted to show us in real time one of the methods he used in onboarding new employees—make it fun and make it competitive.

He used Kahoot, a game-based learning platform, to show us how we responded to his survey questions about onboarding. Not surprisingly, the answers to “How engaging would you say your current onboarding program is?” were in the tank. “Cookie-cutter,” “outdated,” and “boooring” were some of the descriptors.

Why would you want to have an effective onboarding program? As it turns out, onboarding is a competitive advantage. As University Health System revamped its onboarding program, it transformed its corporate culture by actively engaging new hires, increasing long-term retention, improving employee performance, and—here’s the critical piece in change management—by transforming new employees into happy cultural change agents, sharing their satisfaction throughout the organization.

Make onboarding fun, competitive, and interactive. It takes longer than two weeks for effective knowledge retention. As with leadership development, it takes time and reinforcement. Offer active learning, a “method of learning in which students are actively or experientially involved in the learning process and where there are different levels of active learning, depending on student involvement.” Make it fun and make it personally satisfying.


No PowerPoint

One of the most compelling presenters at the convention was Michael Bungay Stanier, founder of Box of Crayons. I first met Michael during a TED Fellow Collaboratorium, where we were both faculty. His latest book, The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever is the book I wish I had written—simple, elegant, and profoundly useful. His audiovisual aids were an easel, tablet, and markers. No PowerPoint. Several of my coaching clients have read it—all give it two thumbs’ up.

Rounding out the workshops, leadership specialist Nick Petrie, vertical leadership development expert and official blogger for the Center for Creative Leadership’s Leading Effectively, suggested I interview Carl Sanders-Edwards, CEO and founder of JumpShift.

Carl is brilliant and an excellent communicator. Our time whizzed by. We were finally kicked out of the interview room for a press conference. He developed the Knowledge-to-Action Platform, a combination of a coaching session and a group facilitated workshop.

“It’s like having a mobile coach on your shoulder.”

I’ll be working with Carl. Stay tuned.


  1. Dr Cary,

    Thank you for sharing your observations from ATD. The Simon Sinek advice to focus on small steps (of kindness and directing attention to others) was particularly interesting. How much is a leadership coach’s job to help their client avoid becoming self-absorbed?

    In Atul Gawande’s current guidance to new graduates, titled The Mistrust of Science,, he observes:

    “Education may expose people to science, but it has a countervailing effect as well, leading people to be more individualistic and ideological. The mistake, then, is to believe that the educational credentials —-give you any special authority on truth. ”

    The lesson I might draw from you as a coach is 1) start by listening, 2) think with attention to stepping off of any high horses (tendency to self-aggrandizement), and 3) follow through with a small, selfless act.

    It that essentially correct?



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.