Return to Blog

Adaptive Leadership at the SLE Retreat

Tags: Fellowship

SLE Fall Retreat 2016

After this weekend, I realized that changing how I handle certain situations shows my values and this ultimately shows authenticity”.
- First Year Scholar 



“Adaptive leadership is a practical leadership framework that helps individuals and organizations adapt and thrive in challenging environments. “
-    Cambridge Leadership Associates

Adaptive Leadership. How does one convey the elements of a broad, big picture term to a group of engaged college students who already have a well-developed skillset and a breadth of leadership experience? 

The Student Leadership Experience (SLE) team faced this question as we prepared to host 36 scholars from 11 different universities along the Front Range. In what ways could we challenge them to think unconventionally and test the boundaries of their traditional viewpoints? 

The answer was rooted in the concept of change. Leaders in the 21st century combat a multitude of variables and the path to success is never entirely free of conflict. As the SLE team molded the curriculum for the Fall Retreat held in Colorado Springs, each activity was carefully designed to reinforce key concepts and skills scholars could potentially use to better understand how to lead adaptively. 


"I am a leader. I am an asset. I inspire change." - Second Year Scholar

Throughout the weekend, scholars challenged their personal leadership philosophies through activities that asked them to be both vulnerable and open minded.  In “Four Corners,” scholars were tasked with agreeing or disagreeing with a series of statements that confronted the themes of leadership vs. followership, problem identification, and leading in times of crisis or challenge.  “Life’s Passages” allowed scholars to identify experiences in their past that have shaped their present leadership style. In “Building a Bridge,” scholars examined how unexpected challenges require clear and effective communication and each member of a team assumes a unique and integral role. 

While activities established the foundation for introducing components of adaptive leadership, it was the discussions and debriefs that sparked true growth and group collaboration.  Scholars excel academically and work diligently to contribute to their respective campuses and communities; however, each student has a different life experience. Group dialogue allowed scholars to recognize these differences and then capitalize on the opportunity to learn from one another and build commonality.  

“It’s imperative to build relationships. Leadership is not a self-given title." - First Year Scholar

By design, serving as a facilitator allowed me to assume a leadership role for portions of the retreat. While I certainly enjoyed walking students through some of the activities, the most significant moments for me happened when I simply observed the group. The level of engagement, willingness to learn, and passion for eliciting true change demonstrated by all scholars was inspiring. I hope that conversations and relationships that began this weekend are cultivated throughout the duration of this program and beyond.