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Steph's Guide to Leadership Programs

When I started our real estate company, Lanier Property Group, in 2012, I realized I had major skill gaps. I had been out of the workforce as a stay-at-home mom, and before that I worked as a social worker. I realized I needed to create my own curriculum and get the training to successfully lead a company.

And that is how I became a leadership program junkie. Now seven years into business ownership, I have participated in so many programs, conferences, and trainings that I feel (mostly) qualified to share what I’ve learned.

A quick note: Leadership programs are an investment of time, money, and energy, so you have to choose wisely. Your time is the most valuable resource you have, so protect it fiercely. I hope by telling you my honest and unsponsored opinions, you’ll be pointed in the right direction. And for those of you who just don’t have the time or financial flexibility at this stage to participate in these programs, I’ve also put together Leadership Resources Under $20. All the podcasts, books, and white sheets on that list have had a huge impact on my life, so I hope you enjoy them.

The Leadership North Carolina (LNC) program coincides with the academic year and runs October through May. This is by far the most life-changing and costly program I have participated in. This program provides the chance for you to travel around the state, learning about different regions and topics. Careful planning by the staff of LNC goes into selecting the topics, locations to visit, and speakers. Time is spent in both urban and rural environments in North Carolina. Due to all the travel, this program also came at a significant sacrifice to my small business, but I can say, with 100% enthusiasm, it was totally worth it.

LNC alumni will tell you that the best part of this program is the relationships you develop with your classmates (usually around 55 to 60 people). Some of my dearest friends were found through LNC. As you grow in your leadership skills and responsibilities, it can be difficult to find peers who relate to all you are going through. Through this program, I found dozens of people who were also passionate about leading.

My Experience

Financial Investment: I paid $5,000 in tuition, plus travel costs. Some scholarships are available.

Time Investment: Sessions were held 2-3 days a month during October-May. My driving time was significant since I live on the North Carolina coast.

Alumni Engagement Opportunities: The alumni program continues to grow and offer LNC alumni (of whom there are now more than 1,000) opportunities to network and stay in touch. Once a year, LNC puts on a day-long conference in the Raleigh-Durham area. Guests can attend the conference as well. Check out their website for details.

My Top Challenge: The toughest was time away from my business while attending or traveling to sessions.

My Top Highlight: This is easy – the friendships I gained! The amount of time you spend together is the way you are able to get such depth of friendship in such a short time-span. The currency of relationships is time. For more info, check out their program page.

Note for Business Owners: This isn’t a program to increase revenue by selling to other attendees, although, depending on your industry, that could happen. This program will benefit you by growing your network into different sectors and getting to know senior leadership at companies you’d probably never have access to in your day to day. The program also teaches leadership principles, while exposing you to a full curriculum all about North Carolina, which you wouldn’t be able to get elsewhere. But if you are looking to develop your leadership skills and pick up some business along the way, keep reading… local programs are your best bet!

Leadership Wilmington was the first leadership program I participated in after rejoining the workforce. This program is run by the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, and our class was about 30 to 35 people. This annual program kicks off in August with an overnight retreat. I love the program and think it is a great value for the experience. The good news about a local leadership program is if you own a small business, there is a great chance that some of your classmates will become your customers, and in turn, you’ll become theirs.

In this program, I was amazed at how much I didn’t know about my hometown, despite living here for 15 years. One of my favorite sessions was the tour of the wastewater treatment plant — I don’t think I have ever spent much time thinking about the complexities involved with something so vital to our city. I also enjoyed getting to see the North Carolina Ports, something you can’t do as a regular citizen. This gave us a chance to learn more about infrastructure and how our region plans to tackle our growth. As a REALTOR®, so much of what we do is educating our clients on our town and what is happening. So, if you are in real estate, get into one of these local programs ASAP to better your business.

My Experience Financial Investment: Currently the program costs $2,000.

Time Commitment: There is a two-day retreat in August, and then sessions are held one day a month from September to May, in addition to one Saturday for a Work on Wilmington project.

Alumni Engagement Opportunities: The chamber is currently working on how to build out this program. Alumni often engage with chamber opportunities by volunteering, serving on the board of directors (like I am doing right now), or sitting on various committees.

My Top Challenge: Staying connected after the program without an official alumni network has been challenging, but the Chamber has just hired a staff person to take over this program and develop an alumni program. Stay tuned!

My Top Highlight: The relationships I formed are my top highlight, along with the chance to get more involved at the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, which has been a huge blessing to me professionally and personally.

The Cape Fear REALTORS® Leadership Academy is a local program put on by Cape Fear REALTORS®. This is a program for members of the Cape Fear REALTORS®, the local chapter of the National Association of REALTORS®. The leadership academy is designed to develop leaders within the group, keep Cape Fear REALTORS® diverse, and give participants skills to apply in all parts of their life.

My Experience

Financial Investment: It was $500 when I enrolled.

Time Commitment: Sessions are half or full days, once a month, for a year; this program ran according to the calendar year.

Alumni Engagement Opportunities: Since all participants are members of Cape Fear REALTORS®, there is no formal alumni program. Most alumni end up serving as the chair of a committee or on the executive board (if they aren’t already doing so).

My Top Highlight: Relationships are everything in real estate, and as the owner of a small boutique brokerage, I treasured getting to know agents from other firms. My business has been positively affected by my friendships from this class of 12 to 15 local leaders. I also really loved the media training, as I had never before been interviewed on camera or had my responses coached by a PR professional. Since this was local and in my field, it was an easy fit.

This is an online-only program I did last summer. The purpose of this four-week program is to help you lead and learn by taking action. Throughout the course you create work and publish it frequently. I had no idea I was capable of producing such a high output of work in such a short period of time. Not all of the work I created was great, but it was done. So much of what holds leaders back is the desire for perfection or for “one more edit,” and Seth’s message is you gotta “ship it.” Be warned: This program doesn’t require travel or time from work during business hours like the other ones, but it has significant homework involved, including reading. It is designed to take place on a compressed timeline, which is helpful if you have a busy life. Many of the details I won’t share, as Seth crafted the program to surprise participants.

The program is often run multiple times a year and requires an application to be accepted. Cohort classes are large, and include people from all over the world, which is also a major benefit of the course. This program also familiarized me much more with Slack, Zoom, and video meetings with people in different time zones. I had never worked on a fully virtual team before, and that was empowering. We now apply much of what I learned in this program to the online portion of our Inspiration Lab events.

My Experience

Financial Investment: It cost $5,000 at the time I participated.

Time Commitment: Whew, this is hard to quantify, but my best guesstimate is 10-12+ hours a week.

Alumni Opportunities: I haven’t done a good job of staying plugged into the alumni programs, but they are robust. You can be as involved as you want to be. In-person meetups are often organized by alums. So, if you live in a bigger metro area, you’re more likely to benefit from the in-person connection than someone like me, who lives in a relatively small town and doesn’t know anyone in Wilmington who has completed altMBA.

Top Challenge: It was grueling to get online at night and to lose most of my Sundays with my family for those four weeks. This is where you have to be committed to the process and anything frivolous in your life has to be cut out for this sprint. If you are a leader, you aren’t afraid of doing hard things; you’re afraid of doing empty things.

Top Highlight: I proved to myself how much I could get done at one time. If you had told me how large my capacity for productivity and focus really was, I’m not sure I would have believed you. I also made great connections and found a business coach who was also a class member, which has had a huge impact on my life.

This four-day workshop was created for small business owners and is held in Brentwood, Tennessee (right outside Nashville). I attended this program in February of 2018 with one of my fellow business-owner friends and Inspi Lab member, Sabrina Davis. She and I came away with practical knowledge and have implemented ideas, systems, and plans into our businesses that have made a HUGE difference for both of us.

The Master Series is designed for business owners, and many of the companies were family-owned and -operated. People came from all over the country, and the world, to attend. Note: This program is not the same as the annual Entreleadership Summit.

During the Master Series, you hear from a wide range of expert speakers and get a taste of the culture Dave Ramsey has created at his company. One day, there was a spelling bee during lunch – and Sabrina won! I have the smartest friends! They fed us extremely well and did a great job of keeping the energy up. We sat beside a family who owns a concrete business in the Midwest. It was fascinating to talk to them about their experiences in the business world.

I was most impacted by the teachings on hiring, firing, and employee engagement. These are sensitive areas, and it can be really hard to find practical and immediately applicable advice.

My Experience

Financial Investment: It was $5,000, plus travel costs, when I attended.

Time Commitment: The program was four nights and five days.

Alumni Opportunities: This is like a conference, so there isn’t a specific alumni network; Entreleadership does offer a coaching program, however, with resources and tools, if you want accountability and support to implement ideas.

Top Challenge: The travel time and cost were most difficult.

Top Highlight: One of the best parts was going with a friend with a similar business size, with whom I could process the ideas at the event. We even continue to do so now, more than a year later. Another highlight was not being lumped in with big businesses, but instead having the teaching catered to the size and scope of the business I run.

I would be remiss not to mention WILMA’s Leadership Institute. I have spoken to this impressive group of women about work-life balance and self-care, and I have heard great things about this small, close-knit program. I am unsure of the exact cost or time commitment, but definitely check out all the details through the link above.

Final Thoughts on Leadership Programs

It is easy to fall into the pattern of sitting around, waiting for someone to tell us what to do, but as a leader you have to build your own curriculum. I am constantly thinking of ways I can invest in my own professional growth and bet on myself. Even if I didn’t own my companies, you can be sure I’d be in my boss’ office, telling them about the programs I want to participate in and asking if they might consider sharing some of the cost or giving me time off to attend. Taking initiative and creating your own curriculum is a core part of being a leader.

If cost is a barrier, look into scholarship programs. If time is a barrier, look into programs like altMBA that happen at night and outside of traditional work hours.

Pause and think about your life right now. What areas do you need more training in? Is there a gap in your skills you’d like to see closed? Get to work today on finding resources, programs, conferences, and trainings to help you level up. Good news for Inspi members: We already have much of what you need right here at The Inspiration Lab.

If you are looking to join a group of women in pursuit of being better leaders in private and public spaces, then you’ve found one at The Inspiration Lab. We celebrate our nurturing spirits and our intense work ethics. We know leadership means caring deeply for others while standing strong for our values. At The Inspi Lab, we know there isn’t one program that fits every need, but we will be here to cheer you on during your journey.

One of the simple ways you can develop your skills as a leader is to take initiative and set goals and make plans. This is the heart behind our signature Banner Year Blueprint workshops. Unlike the leadership programs and conferences I mentioned above, this program is ongoing. That means you won’t have a mountaintop experience and then spend the rest of the year in a valley. Banner Year Blueprint workshops happen online and in person each quarter. You do the work on your own, and discuss the work with a small group of like-minded women. If this sounds like something you’d love, please check it out! Our next workshop is always just around the corner.

During the spring semester, we ran a Study Hall program focused on building leadership skills. An improved version of this program will be back in 2020. Next year’s course will run from late January until May. You can find out more about what we studied in 2019 here.

Make sure you sign up for our newsletter if you are interested in this program. We also have materials for you to share with your boss or workplace to encourage them to sponsor your place in the program. Spaces are limited and there is an application required for participation.

Leadership is a lifelong process. I want to partner with you as you grow into being your best self: someone leading in your workplace, community, and home.


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