The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

RLF Recap: Fall Retreat 2020

Members of the Rockefeller Leadership Fellows Class of 2021 attend a virtual fall retreat session titled "Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI): Using Personality to Understand Self and Others."

Article Type 

Members of both the synchronous and asynchronous cohorts of the Rockefeller Leadership Fellows Class of 2021 attended the annual fall retreat on September 25-26, 2020.

RLF Retreat Day 1 (September 25, 2020)

The first retreat of the year began with a session hosted by Eugene Korsunskiy, one of the lecturers for the famous Dartmouth class ENGS 12, Design Thinking. Eugene began the session by asking the Fellows to complete a simple drawing exercise. Despite the simplicity of the instructions, the ensuing discussion revealed that many of the Fellows reported struggling with the activity for various reasons, which prompted Eugene to point out that many of the Fellows had self-imposed rules on what was meant to be a simple task. The reason for feeling stuck was that the Fellows where pulling ideas for their drawings out of schema, or specific categories of ideas, such as different types of smiley faces. When all the ideas in one scheme are depleted, we can feel stuck, but by learning to recognize our body’s physiological signals to being stuck, we can overcome the issue by consciously moving on to a new schema of ideas.

The Fellows were then able to apply this concept by imagining three possible futures for themselves. The purpose of this exercise was to remind the Fellows that there is no right or authentic future for any of us. By spending time imagining possible futures, we can be more prepared for the unplanned parts of our futures. In addition, we can gain clarity about what is possible, help us determine how we feel about our different possible futures, and then more strategically steer our lives toward the most desirable futures.

Sarah-Marie Hopf ’13 joined the Fellows for the second session of their fall retreat. Setting the tone for the rest of the session, Sarah-Marie began by asking the Fellows to join her in a grounding exercise to promote relaxation and to increase people’s intentions of being present. To open her main point, Sarah-Marie shared a story about monks who, after working slowly but diligently, uncovered a large gold statue hidden in the walls of a monastery. The story was a metaphor: our best selves are the gold statue, and it takes years of work to uncover our best selves and believe that our inner gold is really there.

Sarah-Marie believes that one of the most important steps in uncovering our inner gold is to free ourselves from our inner critics–those tiny voices that tell us all the worst things we believe about ourselves. Instead, we need to cultivate an inner guide, who will be a compassionate companion through our lives, extending understanding and firm guidance when we fail. Self-mastery is when, according to Sarah-Marie, we learn to use our guide instead of our critic.

To demonstrate her point, Sarah-Marie guided the fellows through an exercise. She asked the Fellows to spend a few minutes walking, thinking first about a time when they felt superior to others, a time when they felt defeated, and then a time when they felt comfortable and confident. After sharing how they felt walking under each mindset, Sarah-Marie pointed out to the Fellows that they can access the positive feelings of the third mindset anytime, simply by remembering positive moments and listening to their inner guides.

RLF Retreat Day 2 (September 26, 2020)

While the first day of the retreat focused on introspective growth, the second day of the retreat centered on leadership in interpersonal interactions. The Fellows began the day learning from Ariel Group’s Drew Jacobs, a leadership expert who specializes in presence. Throughout the session, Drew emphasized the importance of storytelling in both personal and professional life. She firmly believes that storytelling can help leaders create the genuine connections which are vital to collaboration. Activities including storytelling practice and acting challenges allowed the Fellows to apply these lessons to real-world public speaking among peers. This session taught the Fellows how to best present themselves to others in order to cultivate meaningful relationships. An increased awareness of how to communicate with passion, authenticity, and commitment will help the Fellows convey their ideas and inspire others.

The Fellows concluded their retreat with an exploration of the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) led by Kansas State University leadership instructor Tamara Bauer. MBTI can be an important tool in helping individuals identify personality preferences within themselves and their peers. According to Tamara, understanding our colleagues’ personality preferences – and how they may differ from our own – is key to building a work environment in which everyone can thrive. She highlighted how each (MBTI) lends itself to both strengths and weaknesses which shape how individuals perform under varying circumstances. Small group discussions with Fellows who shared MBTI traits facilitated a heightened appreciation for the mental processes and predilections that stem from personality preferences. Undoubtedly, the Fellows will utilize this knowledge to approach collaborative efforts with empathy and sensitivity towards unique perspectives. They will capitalize on new insights into communication, decision-making and conflict resolution in order to lead with intent, efficacy, and poise.

Overall, the second day of the retreat positioned the Fellows to interact with others in an expressive, open-minded, and compelling manner. Both sessions empowered the Fellows to leverage their talents, ideas, and experiences to effect substantive change in the world around them. Simply thinking about the ways in which people approach collaboration will help the Fellows pursue their personal and career goals with intentionality. When interpersonal conflict inevitably arises within the workplace or among friends and family, the Fellows will possess the skills they need to overcome the disagreement and restore cooperation.


-Written by Maria Smith-Lopez and Sarah Solomon, Class of 2021 Rockefeller Leadership Fellows and Student Program Assistants

As Rockefeller Leadership Fellows, seniors gain a better understanding of the qualities and responsibilities expected of leaders. As Fellows take part in the workshops, discussions, and team-building exercises, they examine their skills, qualities, and attributes as leaders and analyze how these influence teamwork and achieving goals. 

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences