How to give your leaders a year's worth of decision-making experience in a single day, risk-free

How to give your leaders a year's worth of decision-making experience in a single day, risk-free

Most leadership development is leadership training — you go to a class, listen to the teacher, take some notes, do a few exercises, and then you’re done. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It can work.

The problem is that I think we all know that most leadership skill is learned on the job from the mistakes we make and the successes we have. And the problem with that is that it just takes way too long to make all those mistakes.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to experience a year’s worth of leadership mistakes and successes in a single day? Well, it turns out, there is.

My guest this week was Matt Confer from Abilitie, a leadership development firm based in Austin, Texas, that does exactly that.

They use a day-long business simulation and competition to give leaders a chance to face a whole year’s worth of business challenges and make decisions on what to do. Some of the situations are the traditional kind of operational issues you’d expect — a competitor drops their price, production problems, etc.

But what’s unique is that they put participants into stressful, fictional roles, and make them deal with things like what to do if the company goes through a reorganization and their job changes in the middle of the game. Or a hurricane is bearing down on the manufacturing plant — do you shut down operations and evacuate, or ride it out? What do you do if a social media campaign goes awry and is damaging your reputation? Decide how much to train your staff in the morning, and, if it was too little, find them quitting and working for the competition by lunchtime.


Matt explains more in our conversation which you can listen to above. But he also was generous enough to summarize three of the lessons they learned from a recent simulation with a Fortune 100 company:

1) The most successful leaders are those that operate effectively even during VUCA conditions (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity). Leaders are always in pursuit of opportunities to practice honing their skills in this area and they also want to work for and with individuals who stay calm in those situations.

2) High performers are most interested in training that pushes their comfortable limits in the arena of solving cross-functional business challenges. They want to collaborate with their peers in other departments during training because they believe that will have long term positive ramifications in their day to day pursuit of ascending to higher levels in the organization.

3) Truly successful and transformational leaders do two things better than most average leaders. First they focus on ensuring they understand the long term implications of their short term decisions. Second, they are willing to admit to personal blind spots in their leadership capacity. This willingness is a true driver of personal and professional growth. The capacity to create a space to uncover these elements during leadership training can help elevate an organization and provide an avenue for leaders to share openly with their peers so they can learn from each other.

You can reach Matt at

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Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books Lead with a StoryParenting with a Story, and Sell with a Story.

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