A View from the Top

Author: Casey Gale       

Mark S. Babbitt

The idea for a new kind of leadership conference was born during a conversation between two of its speakers, said co-organizer and speaker Mark S. Babbitt, CEO of YouTern and president of WorqIQ, a consulting firm, in Denver.

“Their thought was simple: What if we cut through all the hype and delivered a day that inspired local leaders (and would-be leaders) to lead differently? No fluff. No sales tactics. Just good information that leads to real change for Denver businesses,” said Babbitt.

The result, Life. Leadership. Elevated., debuts June 15 in Denver with six thought leaders as speakers and an intentionally small group of 60 attendees.

Babbitt talked to Convene about what will set the conference apart on behalf of the event’s other core co-organizers  — S. Chris Edmonds, CEO of the Purposeful Culture Group, S. Max Brown, managing partner for the Institute for Enterprise Excellence, and Shawn Murphy, CEO of WorqIQ.

You’re one of the speakers at the event.  Can you tell me what attendees can expect to hear from speakers at the event?

The speakers on stage on June 15 come from every conceivable background —  we each have our own experiences, so we each have a unique view of leadership. And yet we all have one thing in common: We believe that a leader’s first job is inspire optimism; perhaps even hope. So, while attendees will certainly hear different perspectives throughout the day, each conversation will be anchored by that commonality. And yes, this is an organic effort. The speakers are also co-organizers. We’re putting our money where our mouths are!

Life. Leadership. Elevated. is a clever reference to Denver’s high elevation. Why did you choose Denver as your host city?

Nearly our entire team lives, plays, and works in the Mountain West. For many of us, Colorado is our home. But more than that, Denver is home to so many great organizations, and so many more businesses are headed this way. So there is simply no better time, and no better place then Denver, to start the tough conversation about how leadership must change; that we must care about the success of our people as much as we care about the success of our businesses.

This is much more intimate than most business events, limited to only 60 attendees. Can you tell us the reasoning behind that decision?

This day is intentionally more intimate. We wanted to craft an event where the speakers were there to ignite a conversation, and not serve as a “sage on the stage” that delivered the same speech they’ve given a hundred times, only to jump on a plane for their next gig. Each of us wants to spark a conversation, not be the center of attention.

How will you mix interactive sessions into the event’s program?

Especially when talking about change, no one wants to be talked at… we want to be an active part of the conversation. Speaking only for myself, I don’t want a so-called expert to strap on a microphone and tell me what I’m doing wrong. I want the opportunity to think about how to make things right. And the only way to do that, we strongly believe, is by engaging in mutually-beneficial conversation.

And that is exactly how the day is set up. To enable those conversations, we’ll have an opportunity to talk as a group about the topics covered by each speaker before moving to the next presenter. There is also ample time for networking and organic learning built into the day. Even better, each speaker will join a panel discussion at the end of the day to answer questions and continue the dialogue. Even though we have no idea what topics we’ll take on during that hour, that is the part of the day I’m looking forward to most!

You are sending attendees away with books written by conference speakers. What was the decision behind that?

Weird, right? Speakers giving away their books, and not trying to sell them? The decision behind giving away our books is simple: We want everyone to know that we aren’t there to hype a book, or upsell them one of those “just-do-this-and-everything-will-be-great” leadership programs. This is a group of speakers who want to give something back to the Denver community; we are there to help start that tough conversations around leadership’s changing role in business today. Period.

How can attendees take lessons learned at this event and apply them in their personal lives?

Great question and one that gets us back to our philosophy of providing “actionable inspiration.”

Our view on this is actually quite simple: If each speaker can give every attendee just one nugget they can take back to work and home and apply immediately —one that makes a clear difference in their approach to leadership, and maybe even the climate and culture at their organizations — then we’ve done our job. Maybe it will be a new focus on active listening. Perhaps we inspire them to engage in random acts of leadership. Or maybe we get them to really embrace diversity — and not just pay lip service to the idea of diversity and creating a great place to work for all genders and generations, races and orientations. That’s how we’ll ultimately measure success… that’s how we’ll know we’ve had a pretty good day.

Why do you think so many companies struggle to create a positive, productive work culture?

Too many of our organizations are stuck behind Industrial Age leadership practices. We just haven’t migrated — and in too many cases, don’t know how to migrate — to the Digital/Social Age. Especially us old white males! We were taught to lead in a specific way. Now we’re asked to be good listeners? Vulnerable? Collaborative? This isn’t an easy change to make,  and many of us need help to make this leap.

And yet, the data is solid. We know we must become better leaders. Times have changed. In order to change with them, we must deliberately focus on the creation of optimistic work climates and positive, productive company cultures where core values are considered equally important to results. We must now inspire innovation, collaboration, and creativity rather than mandate certain levels of production. The struggle is very real.

If you have one takeaway you’d like to leave attendees with, what would it be?

It only takes one. One person. One leader. One mentor. One team. One business. Each one of us is capable of creating our own pocket of excellence. Even in the worst possible organizational cultures, we see where one person can make a real difference. We want people to know they can be that one person. And we want them to go home thinking, “I got this.”

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