Aspen Executive Seminar Overview

The Premise: Leaders make better decisions when they clarify their values, understand why others hold different values or priorities, and recognize how to navigate the tensions among values in their own roles and organizations. The Aspen Executive Seminar on Leadership, Values, and the Good Society provides participants stronger tools for wrestling with the competing demands of their leadership positions. Aspen Executive Seminar premise:

  • leadership begins with self-leadership—we cannot lead others unless we can lead ourselves.
  • the decisions we make are never purely economic or technical, but moral—to lead effectively, we need time and space to clarify and test our values.
  • wisdom in leadership is the capacity to make tradeoffs among competing positions—we must understand the tensions among the values that drive choices in our world. 

The Method: The Aspen Method of leadership development employs moderated, text-based dialogue as a means for participants to gain insight into the competing forces that influence decision making. Experienced moderators lead participants in deep discussions of selections from classic and contemporary authors; the texts function as a series of lenses from which they establish their own framework for ethical leadership. This methodology, unique among leadership development offerings, crafts a highly personalized and dynamic experience. Participants will leave the seminar equipped with the intellectual and moral resources necessary to lead with clarity and conviction.

The Format: The Aspen Executive Seminar is offered eight times a year in Aspen, CO or in the metro D.C. area. Each seminar convenes small groups of 18-23 accomplished leaders from across sectors and throughout the world to explore the values, habits, and convictions that drive effective leadership. Every seminar begins on a Saturday night with an opening reception and concludes the following Friday after lunch. Each day is split into group discussion, individual reflection, and optional actives.

The Curriculum: The texts featured in our seminar are works that “reads us:” each text functions as a lens by which to see the world, a mirror in which we see ourselves, and a springboard for talking about contemporary issues. Readings range from Plato and Confucius to Vaclav Havel and Simone de Beauvoir, from Mencius and Maya Angelou to Thomas Hobbes and Ta-Nehisi Coates. Each individual text challenges participants intellectually, morally, and emotionally in varying proportions, but the constellation of texts enlightens the mind, touches the heart, and evokes a transformative growth experience.

The Topics: The seminar’s highly immersive, dynamic learning experience creates a space for truly individualized personal and professional development on a range of subjects. Topics addressed in the seminar include basic assumptions about human nature, identity and the rise of individualism, the competing polarities of efficiency and community, and navigating leadership values in tension.

The Schedule: The daily schedule at the seminar varies depending on the day and the location. Each day allows for ample time to socialize with other participants as well as process individual reflections. The seminar fosters group connection outside the seminar room with a variety of activities: Wine Tasting, Live Music, Guided Nature Tours, Biking, Snowshoeing, and Kayaking.

The Participants: Participants at the Aspen Executive Seminar are typically executive or high potential non-executives from the corporate, non-profit, government, and military sectors. Our curated mix of professional background, different levels of leadership responsibility, diversity of geography and cultural background, and age creates a rich mosaic of perspectives which challenges assumptions, provides deeper insight, broadens networks, and fosters genuine friendships. Go here for an in-depth view of our participant profiles.

The Moderators: The seminar experience is a collaborative investigation into the questions of what makes a good leader, and as such are not lead by instructors. Instead, participants are guided in discussion by two highly-trained moderators. Most of our moderators do not work full-time for the Aspen Institute. Instead, they have high-powered everyday jobs, choosing to take time away from their work to moderate our seminars because they believe in the experience. Scroll down to read the bios of our featured moderators.

The Fee: The Aspen Executive Seminar costs $12,350. The fee covers all meals, lodging, seminar materials, and actives.  Scholarships to attend the seminar in the amount of $6,175 are available. Scholarships are limited and highly competitive. To qualify for a scholarship, you must work for a nonprofit or government organization and you must provide evidence of an ability to pay the remaining ½ of the seminar registration fee. If you meet the above requirements, you can find a 2020 scholarship application here.

The Application: All participants at the seminar must be approved to attend. The Application for the seminar can be found here. Because our seminars draw people from many different sectors who are at different points in their careers, we do not have a single set of requirements one must meet in order be accepted to the seminar. We do expect, however, that participants are either in a management or leadership position at their organization. People who have been in leadership roles in the past but who are now either at a transition point in their career will also be considered during the application process.