Top 5 Ways To Run A Great Leader Forum

January 14, 2014 Vince Molinaro

Top 5 Tips for Great leader forum

As the year closes, many organizations are already planning a series of management meetings for the New Year. My colleague Dr. Liane Davey and I are tag-teaming on a pair of blogs to help you with the planning. Her blog focuses on how to plan a great off-site for your team. My post below focuses on how to run a great leader forum. 

When I first joined the workforce as a lowly employee, I clearly remember those times throughout the year when all our managers would attend an annual retreat.

While they were away, all the employees back at the office would wonder what it was exactly that the managers were doing. Deep down, we hoped they were working hard to solve our most pressing problems.

You can imagine the sense of disappointment when the managers would return with nothing to say about what they did. Or if they said anything, they would comment on frivolous things like the quality of the hotel or the fun they had playing golf.

It became clear to me that many of those meetings were a complete waste of time and nothing meaningful ever got done.

Many years have passed since I witnessed that colossal waste of time. I’d like to say things are different today, but they aren’t.

Retreats, leader forums or leadership summits can be among the most important meetings your company organizes each year. They represent rare opportunities to gather a broad group of leaders (typically your top two or three levels) for meaningful discussions about your key strategic issues.

Unfortunately, many times these meetings are still focused on the quality of the hotel and the fun to be had playing golf. Key strategic issues somehow never get tackled.

Over the years, I’ve attended hundreds of these events. I’ve also helped my clients design and facilitate them. I’ve seen some great events and lived through some pretty awful ones. Through those experiences I’ve also learned a thing or two of how to make them really work. Below are my top five ways to run a great leader forum.

1)    Understand the Stakes are High.

This first point is often missed. These meetings come with high stakes. They are expensive and time-consuming. If they don’t hit the mark, your leaders go back less inspired than when they started. This can discourage and disappoint every employee in your organization; ultimately eroding engagement. So take these events seriously.

If you are on the hook to plan the event start by asking yourself: how can we make this the best leader forum we’ve ever had?

2)    Drive Clarity and Commitment.

Many of these events fail because they are jammed with boring talking-head presentations. The event becomes one big information dump. By the end, everyone is so numb that they have forgotten why they were even there in the first place. I’ve learned that a great leader forum should achieve two primary objectives. First, your leaders should walk away with a clearer sense of your business strategy and what they must do to execute it. Second, they must also walk away with a renewed commitment to be great leaders.

Ask yourself:  how can we drive greater clarity and commitment on the part of our leaders?

3)    Strengthen your Leadership Culture.

One of the benefits of great leader forums is that they give leaders a chance to connect with one another. Create evening activities that foster relationship building. This will build trust and tear down silos.

Ask yourself:  how can we improve the relationships among our leaders during this event?

4)    Create a Call to Action.

Many times these meetings fail because leaders don’t leave with a clear or compelling call to action. Your leaders must know exactly what it is they are being asked to do when they return to the organization.

Ask yourself: What are one or two key actions that all leaders must implement to truly drive our organization forward?

5)    Get Outside Help.

I’ve seen the careers of some completely derail because they were responsible for running the leader forum, and it turned out badly. Since the stakes are high, bring in an external expert to help you design and facilitate your event. Ensure you work with a “top shelf” consultant who has demonstrated strengths in managing large groups of leaders and the courage to tackle tough issues head on.


A great leader forum will align your leaders, galvanize them to higher levels of personal and collective performance and position your company to win in your marketplace. Don’t just settle for a good event – strive to hold the best event your company has ever held.

Follow us @VinceMolinaro & @LianeDavey


About the Author

Vince Molinaro

Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.

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