This episode was a lot of fun! I spoke with the 2023 CLC Champs from Concordia University, Nebraska. I talked to Concordia's coach Curt Beck, and several team members - Ashley, Chloe, Shelby, Carlin, Sydni, Aubrey, Olivia, Grace, Camryn, Marc, Austin, & Joel. We talked about their experience, key learnings, and thoughts on teaming.
What is the CLC?
Collegiate Leadership Competition (CLC), a nonprofit founded in 2015, creates a practice field where students can actively apply what they learn. We believe that leadership can be learned. With practice, our participants develop knowledge, build skill, and learn with other like-minded teammates who are passionate about leadership.
CLC’s curriculum explores the attributes of effective leaders, leadership/followership styles, creative problem-solving, influencing others, navigating difficult conversations, conflict resolution, ethical decision-making, stressors, and effective teaming.
Colleges and universities identify a coach and recruit teams of six students. Any student interested in practicing leadership is welcome. Each team member leads one challenge at the competition and receives extensive feedback based on their performance.
Academic Journal Articles about the Collegiate Leadership Competition
Other Phronesis Episodes About the Collegiate Leadership Competition
About The International Leadership Association (ILA)
About The Boler College of Business at John Carroll University
The International Studying Leadership Conference
About Scott J. Allen
My Approach to Hosting
Note: Voice-to-text transcriptions are about 90% accurate, and conversations-to-text do not always translate perfectly. I include it to provide you with the spirit of the conversation.
Scott Allen 0:01
Okay, everybody, welcome to the Phronesis podcast. Thank you so much for checking in wherever you are in the world. This is really one of my favorite conversations of the year. This is the conversation that I have with the champions of the Collegiate Leadership Competition (CLC). This year, they were coached by Dr. Curt Beck, who is a longtime supporter of the Collegiate Leadership Competition, and just an incredible guy. And so, congratulations to Curt. For those of you who might not be familiar with CLC. CLC is a nonprofit, it's an organization that's really working to create a practice field for leadership. There's a lot of people out there sitting in rooms, learning about leadership, kind of at an intellectual level. And there's a lot of people in organizations doing leadership on campus, that might be residence life, that might be a fraternity or sorority, that might be student government. But there isn't a simulator, there isn't a place for us to really, truly practice. And that's what the Collegiate Leadership Competition is trying to do. So, how does it work? Well, schools and universities say, “We want to try this, we want to do this.” Anywhere in the world, a university or college could say that they want to try this out. They identify a coach, and that coach puts together a team of six students. Those six students, and the coach, from January through April, every year, go through a curriculum. All kinds of fun topics in the curriculum, like attributes of effective leaders, stressors, leadership styles, followership styles, influence tactics, and ethical decision-making. And they practice leadership for three months. They explore the curriculum, they get together, and they meet weekly. Sometimes it's a co-curricular experience, like the students are volunteering, sometimes it's a (for credit) class on some college campuses, but they get together and they practice. And then, every March or April, we get together in person, or online, and we compete. And why do people practice? Well, to compete and perform. So, these teams get together and they're given a series of puzzles, there are six puzzles in all. So, each student leader gets to lead one activity, and they take their team through that process. The teams are judged on two dimensions: Process, which is a rubric aligned with the curriculum, and results. How did they do? And today, we have the teams that did the best in 2023. They are from Concordia University in Nebraska. And I don't know what's going on there, I don't know what's in the water, but you all just did absolutely incredible. And so, we're going to talk with some of the players from our Concordia teams who got first in second place, and just learn a little bit more about their experience. And so, Ashley, I want to start with you, what surprised you most about actually engaging in the competition?
Probably what surprised me most is how well we do as a team. I've been doing this for, this is my third year now, and just the bonding we have been able to perform and compete. Having that bond is essential. And just being able to fall back on your team if there is a big stressor or technology fails, like, being able to trust your team and relying on them probably is the biggest impact that I took away from this.
Scott Allen 3:28
Well, I think actually you're exactly right. One byproduct of what we're trying to accomplish with the competition is truly helping participants feel, and experience a sense of what a high-functioning team feels like. So Chloe, did you feel like you had an experience where you now know what it feels like to work on a high-functioning team? Did that work for you as well?
Yes, it really did. This was my second year doing this, and it was such a completely different experience. And I felt, both last year and this year, my team, we did… So, I'm so proud of us. And I felt like we had this moment, whenever we went to Virginia, actually, and competed in Invitational, that was a moment for us that, truly, our team clicked. And I could see how well we were performing, how well we could work together, and it was such an awesome experience. And so, I truly got to see our team come together. And then, we did great with the competition. So, I am so proud of us and I really felt that.
Scott Allen 4:31
Oh, that's awesome. That's awesome. Well, you know what? It's so heartwarming because, even my teams at John Carroll University, they said just the other day, as we were debriefing, they said, “You know what? That was a lot of fun. And I've never been in a class where I've gotten to know my classmates so incredibly well, we feel like a team.” And so, we have two individuals here that we've spoken with so far that have been a part of this for three years and two years. Now, I'm going to go back to you quickly, Ashley, can you talk a little bit about what the difference was across those three years for you?
Yeah, of course. So, in my sophomore year coming in, I was extremely timid, especially kind of scared of Dr. Beck, to be honest. Starting off in that first group just knowing what a leader is actually supposed to do, I thought I was all hands-on, and that was a huge difference to what a leader is actually supposed to do. And then, my second year, I got a little more comfortable and there was a lot of self-growth. Now my third year, it was more growth in emotional intelligence on how I could best serve the people that are new to CLC and don't know any of the terms or what it means to be a leader. So, it was very cool to just see how I could help them and how I could be of service to them. So, it definitely is different all three years, and I think Chloe could attest to that as well.
Scott Allen 5:59
Chloe, what do you think, same for you?
I definitely agree. Last year was my first year and I was so scared. It was so much about how can I actually become a leader that really works well with this group. And then, this year, Ashley and I were the only ones returning this year, the rest of our team was new. So, we already came in having an experience where we were like, “Okay, we have to step up,” and we both definitely learned about how to actually really serve our team and how we can be good examples as to what kind of leaders look like, and truly helping our teammates grow in learning the curriculum, and just as leaders.
Dr. Beck has done a phenomenal job of just bringing new people in and making us all feel welcome and bonding with each other. And he's just done an incredible job of leading us and showing us what it means to be a true leader.
Scott Allen 6:48
So, Ashley and Chloe are two individuals that have been a part of this for a couple of years now, or three years in one case, which is absolutely awesome. I'd love to hear from some folks who this was your first year. What even went through your mind when you heard, "okay, this is a leadership competition?" What were you thinking when you heard about this first? So, Shelby, your first year, what did you think as you started this process?
To be completely honest, I really didn't have any idea what I was getting myself into. Well, I've had a few leadership positions in the past, and just the way that this experience was so structured, it was very unfamiliar for me. But it definitely instilled some different values into my leadership for the future as far as following certain processes, and emotional intelligence, and just ways that I can serve my followers as well as be a good leader.
Scott Allen 7:41
Well, that's awesome because, yes, the curriculum, sometimes it's concepts like what are the attributes of effective leadership? But then, sometimes we're really trying to build skill. Can you have a difficult conversation? Can you make a decision ethically? Can you solve a problem? There's some skill that we're building and some processes, so I loved how you phrased that because there's real thinking behind how we navigate some of these challenging situations. Carlin, how about you? What surprised you most as you went through the process of this experience?
Yeah, for sure. Well, to touch on what Shelby was saying, I was definitely intimidated coming into this, like, I didn't really know a lot of the people that were going to be on our team and I've never had a class with Dr. Beck. So, that was really intimidating. And I think going into it, of course, it's called leadership, and you'll certainly learn a ton about how to be an effective leader, how to lead a team. But, I think, also, you learn so much about just how to be a good follower, like, how to not step on the leader's toes, how to stay in your role, how to accept the role that you've been given, and just what that looks like to support your team and support your leader. I think that's something that I really took away from this. And I wasn't expecting to be that focused and also how you are as a follower, not as just a leader, but how you do in other positions on a team.
Scott Allen 9:04
Yeah, because in the rubric, we're looking at not only the leader's effectiveness but also, the team's effectiveness. So, even as a follower, you might be a fully engaged follower, performing your role, but sometimes, you're going to have to be, as we would say, opposed and open and say, look, here's something I see, and Shelby, to your point, kind of the emotional intelligence. In this simulator, you're given these activities on the days of the competition, and talk a little bit about what you learned about emotional intelligence, how it feels when all of a sudden this rush of stressors are introduced, but you need to stay calm and help the team navigate it. How was that as an experience?
Shelby 4 9:45
Being the leader, it's kind of an adrenaline rush, honestly. And I can't say I've ever felt that way outside of…In almost like a classroom-type setting, I've never felt that way, but being able to lead your friends and your teammates is just something. It's an unbelievable experience because you know that they have your back, and you would do anything to help make your group successful.
Scott Allen 10:10
Oh, for sure. And Carlin, how about you, what did you learn about yourself when it comes to navigating kind of the emotional roller coaster of this experience?
Yeah. I think that just comes from a leader being cool, calm, and collected in times when we do have those, quote-unquote, “stressors.” But I think, also, a lot of emotional intelligence is just knowing your team, knowing their strong suits, what they might struggle with a little bit. But then, also in those times that we do have those stressors, I think it's recognizing, like, hey, so and so is struggling with this, maybe let's reassign a role, or let's reevaluate as a team. What does that look like? How can we push through these stressors and use that emotional intelligence to better the situation or get us out of this current stressor that we're facing?
Scott Allen 10:56
Well, Carlin, I love how you're framing that because, I think, something we're really trying to do; one of my favorite words is intentionality. And are you observing, in real time, when it's not working when someone's struggling? And, one of you said it, “I've got your back. And I'm noticing this, I'm seeing it, and how do I now help either this individual or help the team get back on track?” I think that intentionality is something we're working really, really hard to develop and build so that when you are in your student organizations, so fraternity, or sorority, or student government, or it could be the hiking club, you're able to act with intentionality, right?
Yeah, for sure.
Scott Allen 11:36
Okay. So Sydney, I have a quick question for you. This is your first year, correct?
Yes, it is.
Scott Allen 11:42
Okay. If you think about this curriculum, at the beginning, the curriculum can feel a little bit daunting because there's kind of a lot of things you have to learn. But towards the end, at least what I hear all the time is, it really doesn't feel like it's all that much anymore, and it kind of becomes a language that we're speaking. Almost like it's a foreign language, almost like it's Spanish, but we're sounding like these leadership experts. So, did you go through that process? I'd love to hear about your adventures with this curriculum. Did it start to feel like you were using a different language, even maybe with some of your friends?
Yeah. So, coming in, we were given a sheet of all these different terms. And we're like, “Wow, these sound really cheesy,” but we started using them a lot. And like, even outside of the competition, or just in a classroom setting, we'd always be saying them, and we're like, “Oh, my gosh. We've just…” Yeah, it's all in our minds now. And like every situation in other classrooms, it felt like we were going through the SOLVE process. So yeah, we've been using it a lot.
Scott Allen 12:39
You know, and that's what I love about this content is that we are literally swimming in it all the time. Those stressors the need to problem solve, the need to make ethical decisions, and the need to influence others. Whether you're an athlete, or whether you are a student trying to kind of diagnose what's going to be on the exam and trying to figure out what I'm up against, it's all there. It's all there. Aubrey, what were some of your favorite kinds of concepts that you learned? Do you have a favorite bucket of content that helped you see the world in a little bit of a different way?
I'd say solve because that's the concept you're using the most, and you use it in every competition. But yeah, I actually would say that it started to affect outside of our practices and outside of competitions. I distinctly remember I was doing a project for an accounting class, and I was in it with one of my other teammates. And we were talking, like, we were delegating roles as a group, and we were like, “Oh, my gosh, I'm solving right now.” I'm like, trying not to solve it because it just seems so cheesy to be like, “Let's set roles, let's outline the problems.” But it honestly does make things more efficient in practice, even though, when you're doing it in a competition when you're learning how to do it, it feels kind of cheesy to say like, “Okay, let's set roles,” but it is effective.
Scott Allen 13:59
Yes. And for listeners, solve stands for, generally speaking, set roles, outlining the problem, listing multiple strategies, veering towards consensus, and evaluating results. I forgot how to spell there for a moment. So, ‘solve,’ so you're seeing it all around you. And that's what's interesting about this content is, sometimes when I'm doing the lecture on influence tactics, that's happening all the time in our family, that's happening with roommates, that's happening in our organizations. Are there any other concepts that you saw kind of happening all around you often and consistently?
I'd say teams probably were a big thing. Like, small wins matter. We kind of say it as a joke when the littlest good thing would happen, we'd say, “Oh, small wins matter,” but I think it did help us as a group and in competitions to just keep that in mind. And also, trust matters. Sometimes, maybe one teammate is given a role, and they're very integral to the process, and maybe you're concerned that they're not going to get it done, but that trust matters, and it affects their confidence and your ability to get things done as a whole.
Scott Allen 15:06
Yeah. And for listeners, you're hearing ‘trust matters,’ you're hearing a little bit of a language here. I'll put a cheat sheet in the show notes so you can have a look at what the curriculum is and kind of better understand what the students are saying. Well, Sydney, Aubrey, thank you so much. I really, really appreciate it. So another question I have about this experience is, Olivia, is there an insight that you gained about yourself through this process?
Yes. So, entering this class, I knew most of the people in here, but there are a lot of people that I would like to get to know a lot better. And I'm more of an introverted extrovert. So, this class I knew will definitely push me, and I've really grown as a leader, but also an even better follower through this class. So, I've really enjoyed that. And I get another year in leadership, so I'm very excited to see where I'll go even further with myself next year.
Scott Allen 16:05
Oh, that's awesome. So I identify you as someone who's more introverted, but through this process, you were able to open up, and extrovert a little bit more and build some of that muscle while leading the team.
Scott Allen 16:20
Oh, that's awesome. Grace, how about you? Is there an insight that you had about yourself as you navigated this experience?
Yeah, definitely. I think, also like Olivia, I didn't really know quite what to expect coming into this class. And I think the CLC as a whole just does a great job of making things tangible. I think something that I learned about myself is just how to be an effective communicator, and how to communicate with different types of people. I think that's something that's super important moving forward into any place or job that you're going into. So, I think that was something that was super helpful for me. And then just being confident and comfortable stepping up to a role that you may not have had experience with before. I think that's something that I learned, and just gaining that confidence to serve in different ways than I anticipated.
Scott Allen 17:04
Well, it's so funny, Grace, because as you talked about communicating, I will watch my team at times, and someone says something, and they think they're communicating, but the other five people have no clue what that individual just said. And sometimes it's hard to get some of that instant feedback at times in real life, where you think you've communicated well, but you haven't, right?
Yes, exactly. And just adapting to that, too is super important. How can you effectively communicate and adapt to this situation?
Scott Allen 17:34
100%. Now, Olivia, was there a highlight for you that stands out? Maybe, obviously, winning was a highlight, but in the course of the competition, is there a moment that really stands out for you, where you felt really proud of the team?
You know, I'd want to say, it was really, I think, the riddles challenge in the competition because I feel like that was just a breaking point for us, because we had celebrated all the small wins that had gone so smoothly, and we had just gotten such great feedback from the judges and great comments. And I think that it just really reassured my team going into the last challenge, which we were all getting ready for. And yeah, I don't know, we had such amazing energy that day, and specifically, after that challenge, and going into our last challenge of the competition. I don't know, it's nostalgic now looking back on that day, and specifically, us because we've won, so that was a lot of fun. But every challenge, just celebrating wins after every challenge was probably the most fun for me.
Scott Allen 18:44
I love it. Cameron, I'd love to hear from you. Now, was there a moment throughout the competition where you personally found yourself kind of frustrated or triggered in the moment? Can you think of an instance where you had those feelings, and then what did you do?
Yeah. So actually, the first little mini-game, the environment one, we actually score zero out of 100 on the, not the process, but the actual ‘I'm getting it done or not.’ I knew our process points were there because I think we do a really effective job going through ‘SOLVE,’ and everything. But yeah, we couldn't get the climate change to go down. And so, really thinking through the term conflict, like are you going to collaborate? Are you going to do nothing? And so, I think our team did a really good job of staying calm the whole time and working through it together. And then, after that, when we had that little debrief of 15 minutes, obviously, it was, “Are we going to keep talking about it? Are we going to move on to the next situation and go on and do our best?” I think that we did a really good job of shutting that door and moving on.
Scott Allen 19:53
Well, obviously, you did an incredible job of that, Cameron, because that happens probably to every team over the course of the competition, where either their process score is really low. And, for listeners, teams are judged on two dimensions, their process, and how they did according to a rubric, and then, this is based on the scores of some judges and then the results. And they can get 100 points for each one of those. So, each activity has a total of 200 points. So, what Cameron is saying here is, maybe they got 100 out of 200 points on that particular activity. And that kind of happens to everyone. Throughout the process, everyone has an activity; because these activities are challenging, we're designing them to be somewhat of a difficult experience, not something that's just a walk through the park. Mark, how about you? Same question, was there a moment for you where you kind of got sucked in, and you were frustrated, maybe you were agitated, and then, how did you kind of get out of that? Because, we talk a lot about, in the course of the CLC, leadership is just… If there was a word for every emotion, and this is probably how all of you felt throughout the experience. You were frustrated, angry, sad, excited, elated, and proud. All of them in the context of this experience. Why don't you tell listeners a story real quick?
I think the most frustrating part of it for me was when we did the cards challenge because I was a leader for that. And there were several times where we went through, we thought we had it, and then, when we started flipping the cards over, we found out we had them in the wrong order. And it was a little frustrating because I was the leader for that one, and I felt it was kind of on me because we had spent more time solving than we needed to. So, that made it more of a time crunch for us then. But, after several times of getting frustrated with that, we got it, and it was like, “Okay, we got it, we have points, we can go on to the next one.” And we went and did another one, got those points, and that kind of helped me get out of that hole. I was trying to hide it, what was going through my head from my team because I was kind of frustrated, not at them, but at me because I'm like, “I'm the leader, and here we are not doing well on this.” And I was feeling responsible there, but we were able to pull stuff together, and get some completed, and get some points out of there.
Scott Allen 22:08
You just made me think of this. There's a meme out there, I think it's of a duck. And the duck is looking very, very smooth on top, but he's paddling vigorously below the water. And it sounds like you had a little bit of that experience going on, right?
Scott Allen 22:24
So, what surprised you most about the actual competition, the actual experience of the competition?
I would say how intense it got. I was a little like, just with it being on Zoom, I was like, "How are you going to get that competitive feel against the other 30 teams?” But I was shocked about how intense and how nervous you got, in a good way, to compete against the other teams.
Scott Allen 22:49
Having that scoreboard that is in real-time, letting you know exactly where you stand, adds a little heat to the experience, doesn't it?
Scott Allen 22:58
Mark, how about you?
Pretty much the same thing. I didn't think I would be sweating just from looking at a computer screen, but I was. I didn't think that would be possible, especially when you don't see any of the other competitors. But, as you said, the large scoreboard, seeing that kind of puts the pressure on.
Scott Allen 23:13
Yeah, it is. It's really, really interesting because, obviously, the two of you spent some time on Zoom in getting an education in the last few years, and there's that version of being on Zoom. But this is, at least, my team said that went incredibly fast. We were so surprised at how quickly it went because it felt like it was going to be a long time. But yeah, they talked about how well they slept that night because they were just mentally drained. So Austin, what do listeners need to know about this competition that maybe we haven't talked about so far? What do you think?
Yeah. I think just important things to know about this competition is known as a great opportunity, especially, it just puts you in an environment that really can't simulate anywhere else in the real world without being in those types of situations. And so, it's a really good way to put yourself in a stressful environment with no real consequences if it doesn't work out. And kind of what you said, there are no losers, there are winners and learners. It's a great learning environment for us.
Scott Allen 24:24
Yeah. We're trying to do a few different things. I could really geek out on the learning theory here, but we're trying to provide learners with some knowledge. We're trying to build some skills. We're trying to provide learners with a coach or someone who can help guide the learning. We're trying to help learners get to know themselves a little bit better about working on a team. And then, we're providing the experience because you can sit in a room and you can talk about leadership all you want, but until you've been in that challenging situation on your team or in the organization that you're a member of, it's a totally different ballgame. It's like sitting in a room and trying to teach someone football. At the end of that class, you have someone who knows more about football, but you don't have a football player, right? That's not a thing; they will go out on the field and be pummeled. It’s just not a thing. So, we're trying to provide this well-rounded experience where you have the knowledge, some skill, building some self-awareness, we have a coach guiding the process, and then, we have an experience. And that's really all the competition is designed to do; it's an excuse to practice and provide that kind of go-time experience. How do you think about it, Joel?
I would say, kind of similar. You said, just the experience of building those leadership qualities without having to get a position of leadership, like, it's class. So, you get to experience, like, we had the class two days a week. So, you get to experience it and work on your communication skills, like, being the leader, being the follower, you get to actually experience that twice a week. And then, on the competitions, it's just different stuff getting thrown at you every day that you meet in class. I think that's one of the biggest parts of this.
Scott Allen 26:13
Well, I'm going to go to the two of you with one more question, Austin, if you were to sum up this experience in one word, what would it be?
I would just say, "growth."
Scott Allen 26:24
Awesome. How about you, Joel?
I would say, "engaging."
Scott Allen 26:30
Awesome. Let's hear from the coach. I think he’s still wearing his whistle. He's got his uniform on, his coach's uniform. Curt Beck, you've been at this with us in the CLC for probably, is it, was this the fifth or sixth year?
Curt Beck 26:45
Scott Allen 26:46
Sixth year. So, would you talk a little bit about what your secret is here? You're developing these teams that are just doing incredible.
Curt Beck 26:55
We emphasize growth; that's our main focus for us. We talk about learning to find ways to grow each and every day as a follower and as a leader. We talk about process, I know, as coaches, the whole thing about process is so true. We focused on that a lot this year, and then some of our scores. I was even surprised at how well we scored with the judges, not how well we did, but how well we scored with the judges. We got a couple of hundred, and just the comments were fantastic.
Scott Allen 27:25
That's awesome. Well, any other reflections you have, sir, on how you feel about these two teams?
Curt Beck 27:31
Well, these are awesome students. They gave a lot of themselves, and they talk about coming in and allowing themselves to be vulnerable, and to learn and grow. And really, I would say, really, the biggest thing about this group is the chemistry. They really came together and bonded as a group. A lot of it had to do with our trip out to Virginia, which we really enjoyed. But I think, again, just the whole bonding and developing solid chemistry was very helpful.
Scott Allen 27:57
And, Curt, last question for you, sir. As you think about coaching, what do you get most out of this experience? This is a class, it doesn't feel like a normal class, I imagine.
Curt Beck 28:07
No, but I love the practice field mentality, that this is about an opportunity to actually hands-on do it, and not just lecture and take a test. And, this way, we actually get to do the things and practice them. And, for me, it's really watching and tracking the level of growth and just seeing them come together. It's a lot of fun.
Scott Allen 28:25
Well, congratulations to you. Congratulations to the teams. They just did absolutely incredible. You and the Air Force Academy have a little bit of a back-and-forth here on the process. To you and to the team, thank you so much for jumping in and engaging. Congratulations, it's just incredible. For those of you who are listeners, we're going to put some resources in the show notes so that you can learn a little bit more about CLC, what we're up to, and what we're trying to accomplish. But essentially, how do we better prepare individuals to be successful when serving in these really challenging roles, whether it's a formal role or an informal role. And we're trying to create a practice field for leadership so that that becomes more of a norm, so that when people get into the actual experience, they've been in the simulator for a while, they've had some experience. Okay.
Curt Beck 29:17
Thanks for all you do.
Scott Allen 29:18
Take care. Be well.
[End Of Audio]