The true red pills for growing as a leader

Before I get to the Matrix, I need to begin with a personal anecdote. Recently, a friend who is a VP for a Fortune 500 company told me about an invitation she got to a week-long leadership development program. She knew I had started Lead Belay, so she thought, “Oh, this is what Mike’s doing,” and clicked the link. It was a one-week experience at a university promising a transformative leadership experience. The cost — $18K, lodging NOT included. Even as a VP, the price tag was out of reach. (Not to mention the time away from work and family.) She asked me, “What could they possibly be giving me in one week that would be worth $18,000?”


Thankfully, top-tier leadership development doesn’t have to have a ‘top tier’ price tag.


I understand her skepticism. But after more than a decade creating top-tier leadership development programs, I’ve seen the impact quality leadership development experiences can have. They can be truly transformative.

top tier hotel

Top-tier leadership development doesn’t have to have a ‘top-tier’ price tag. 
Photo by The Anam on Unsplash

Unfortunately, the programs I built, and programs like the one my friend was offered, are only available to a lucky few. The entry point to meaningful leadership development typically starts at $5,000 a person. That’s a huge barrier for most people and organizations.

To be transformative, though, it does have to include three key elements:

  1. Spacing the learning over time
  2. A healthy and supportive peer group
  3. Lessons that can be put to use right away

Space learning over time

Ok, back to The Matrix. If only we could all be like Neo and download Kung Fu into our brain with a keystroke and a jerk of the neck. But, sadly, there’s only one Keanu Reeves. (Seriously, have you seen him do this?) Yet, intensive leadership development offered as day or week-long programs assume we have Neo-like capacity to have epiphanies and apply an interconnected web of new skills all at once.

matrix numbers

If only we all had a Neo-like capacity to download an interconnected web of new skills into our brains and apply them all at once. Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Human brains are amazing in their ability to learn new information, but it takes time to turn that information into something we can use. In 1885, German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus hypothesized that humans forget almost 100 percent of learned information in a matter of days. He found that memory… I can see you’re already beginning to forget this! Let me sum up: most people forget what they’re taught in short order, unless they take steps to halt the “forgetting.”

Most people forget what they’re taught in short order, unless they take steps to halt the “forgetting.”


One of the best ways to learn is to space the learning over time. Neuroscientists call this the “spacing effect.” Teachers, instructional designers, and psychologists know and practice this. Concentrated “lessons” just don’t work as well as learning a little bit at a time. Here’s the science if you want to read more about it. (And, by the way, even Keanu Reeves isn’t Neo in real life. The video linked above was filmed after multiple sessions over weeks of working with an expert in the field.)


Provide a healthy peer group and psychological safety

We humans learn best from our peers. Traditional learning with instruction from an expert or expert sources just don’t measure up to experiences where we learn from and teach one another. We are most capable of learning and growing when we feel supported and seen by peers who ‘get us.’

millennials having coffee Do you remember a time you tried something because a friend suggested it, only to realize later that you heard it before, but didn’t give it a shot? When it comes to leadership development, a group of people who are challenged by the same professional problems and in similar places in their work journeys are best equipped to see, understand, and help each other. Not only that, but they’re more open to each other’s advice.
We are most capable of learning and growing when we feel supported and seen by peers who ‘get us.’

When we feel people sincerely want to help, we can show up as our authentic, vulnerable selves. These are the foundations that make it possible to quickly get to the heart of challenges and what it will take to overcome them. In other words, a supportive peer group is critical to impactful leadership development.


Provide opportunities for immediate action

The other way to curb “forgetting” and make a new skill stick is to put the learning into immediate use. At Lead Belay, we call that Monday morning impact. It’s an actionable change made in response to a stimulating growth experience. If you make the experience relevant to a manager’s everyday challenges and give them a way to make change, reflect, and adjust over the long term they’ll have more success than a manager who returns from a week-long experience full of ideas and desire, but no way to implement them.

Combine peer support and Monday morning impact with spacing over time and you get the secret sauce. And the best part? These don’t have to be expensive.

If you’re ready to learn more about Lead Belay’s transformational leadership experiences for new managers, please contact me. If you want to share ideas about how to create leadership development that works and is affordable, I’d also love to hear from you.

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