Can a leadership retreat be transformational?


Once asked to facilitate a small content session as part of a leadership retreat, I was surprised to see some partners from the professional service firm arrive after lunch with large welts on their foreheads. Seeing the look on my face, someone explained. As a teambuilding exercise, convenors thought that a group of middle-aged leaders of varying fitness levels would build a sense of unity around a lively paintball competition. I realized then that people often don’t quite know what to do with a retreat.

Getting away from regular day-to-day activity and interruptions, and having some out-of-the-box experience in itself can be useful, and may be your ultimate goal. Yet considering the substantial resource investment, in terms of billable hours and units of salary, and related venue, travel, and service costs, I’d love to encourage everyone to think more strategically about the opportunity of a leadership retreat to be a focal point for launching significant exploration, learning and lasting change in how people think, operate and what’s possible together.

A question to consider is, do you want more time for the conversations you are already having? Or, do you want to have a new conversation? A deep inquiry you have not yet had with these people? Are you seeking to alter what’s possible together? Shift the energy and how people view their roles, the team or organization, and how they collaborate and act?

If you want to have the second conversation, consider a Transformational Leadership Retreat. This type of retreat is so powerful, my friend Ann Van Eron and I are offering a seminar about how to create one later this month.

Utilizing a 6-question coaching model, we collaborate with leaders to create what is essentially a coaching intervention with a group. Just as an executive coaching engagement begins with extreme clarity about desired outcomes, we collaborate with leadership to clarify the urgency for the shift, and measurable outcomes. If the retreat was a huge success, what would have happened? What would you see? What behavior changes would be experienced? What’s the longer-term goal? If you are not in touch with the urgency, it is unlikely others will be. Your clarity about what you want to see will impact the clarity of others, and inform how you speak about the retreat, how others speak and how you operate. One client we worked with wanted, among other things, a higher magnitude of enthusiasm, collaboration and creativity, and to transform the reputation of her unit, for example. We then gather the data and input to understand how best to prepare participants to support their engagement in the inquiry and in co-creating the outcomes. We co-create the activities, learning and conversations to cultivate the desired mindset and behavior shifts as well as the practices, actions and structures that support sustainable progress and success. And, we incorporate fun with no injuries! Too often our task-oriented environments inhibit the ability to cultivate this level of reflection and meaning. 

This process has resulted in unpredictable outcomes for leaders and their organizations and a way of operating together that continues to evolve in strength.

I will write more about this process soon. 

To learn more about Leading the Transformational Retreat June 25 from 12 – 4:30 at Chicago’s Catalyst Ranch use this link. In addition to a comprehensive, interactive seminar on this methodology, and a workbook, we also provide lunch, and a group conference call about a month afterward to answer any questions that arise.

Or, call me if you’d like to learn more or are currently planning a leadership retreat. 


Jackie Sloane works with leaders to bring out the best in themselves and others and to create transformational interventions and retreats for public sector, Fortune 1000, privately-held and not-for-profit entities. 

Questions about this seminar, transformational retreats, or transformational change? Or, schedule a transformational retreat for your organization at the Catalyst Ranch. Contact Jackie Sloane at 773-465-5906. 

Photo by from Pexels

Don’t miss Leading the Transformational Retreat June 25 at 12 at Catalyst Ranch.

Transformational leadership, focus, and the power of conversation

In more than twenty years of collaborating with leaders to transform themselves, their teams and their organizations, it’s so apparent what a powerful tool conversation is.  Conversations can be transformative.

Conversation, and how a leader is being are probably a leader’s most powerful tools. Conversations can open opportunity and possibility that had not existed. And, we have all been in conversations that shut everything down.

We can think of transformational leadership as an approach, or way of being that produces sustainable, positive, inspired change in others and systems.

In working with clients at global organizations, at privately held firms and at academic institutions, I have seen over and over how the types of conversations a leader is having, and how the leader is being has profound impact on what’s possible and happens in the team or organization.

Often, I have found that a leader’s focus may be important to discuss. This may seem obvious, but when focus is clear and all actions, practices, conversations and people are aligned, amazing things happen. Exponential shifts in productivity, dramatic sales increases, and, greater well-being. Energy can be high. Too often, specificity about what we are all working to accomplish may not be clear. We may think it is, but we can see by what is happening around us when it is not. Meetings, practices, conversations then don’t accelerate what we are up to.  Confusion, gossip, turf jockeying will waste time and energy.

Abe Ankumah, chief executive of Nyansa, the rapidly growing software firm calls this focus “first principle” thinking. Quoted in an interview in The New York Times, he says, “it’s all about making sure that everyone understands the problem we’re trying to solve. And to do that, you have to maintain a broader perspective and listen very carefully to people.”

I spoke last year with Katy Lynch Ulliott, co-founder of Codeverse. You may know her as the former CEO of Techweek, or from the first business she founded, Social Katy.

Katy founded Codeverse® to bring more girls and minorities into tech and STEM fields overall. She says Codeverse is “the world's first fully interactive coding school and educational tech platform that teaches kids as young as 6 to learn to code.” The curriculum introduces all the foundations of computer programming while incorporating common core subjects including art, history, science, and math.

Katy credits focus with her successes, and says without clear direction and communication, leaders often stumble.

To engage others in achieving transformational goals, she says, “First and foremost, a leader needs to align everyone in the organization with the mission, vision, and values – what the company stands for and doesn't’ stand for. These serves to guide making decisions.”

In addition to focus, transformational leadership requires courage and skill. People also have to be willing to address what is out of alignment, and doesn’t work.

“People have to be willing to challenge, and look at even why a great idea may not make sense.”


This is an occasional blog about leadership and transformation. Let’s have a conversation. Please share your experiences, thoughts and ideas.

Jackie Sloane specializes transformational leadership retreats and interventions, and consulting and coaching leaders in transforming themselves, their teams and organizations . She is founder of Sloane Communications and has a cat named Catalena. Contact her at