Leadership Vermont: Building A Community of Practice for Vermont’s Well-Being

In June 2013, a gathering of leaders concerned with leadership capacity in the fields of education, community development, state government and the nonprofit sector gathered to identify map current initiatives and craft an idealized future, where leadership development is available to all Vermonters’ at each stage of their lives.

On Tuesday, September 17th at 10 a.m., Common Good Vermont and it’s partners, Champlain College, Susan Palmer and Mark Furnari, will host a 90-minute on-line presentation to report on the findings of that day and open a discussion about next steps in developing a leadership “pipeline” for Vermont.

Register Today.

This background paper summarizes the June Leadership Vermont event and will be discussed in more detail.

LEADERSHIP VERMONT | Summary of June 2013 Gathering

There goes my people. I must follow them, for I am their leader. – Mahatma Ghandi

If towns have learn to ski programs why can’t we have learn to lead programs? –  Leadership Vermont Participant


Vermont’s state motto is Freedom and Unity. We share an ideal: to live in a state where all Vermonter’s enjoy a healthy and productive life, able to contribute to the common good. We share a simple definition of leadership: citizens of all ages are able to be responsible for themselves and navigate the challenges of daily living. We believe that this is a necessary condition for individual well-being and community resiliency.

In Vermont, we are blessed with many, many opportunities to learn and practice leadership development at all stages of human development. But many of these formal and informal initiatives operate in isolation of each other, making it difficult to leverage the collective effort in order to have a greater impact on the well-being of the state.

The attendees at the June 2013 Leadership Vermont event share the desire to coordinate these activities in order to better promote individual effectiveness and community resiliency.

Several metaphors are in place for thinking about a systems based approach to leadership development in Vermont. The terms pipeline, hub, fabric were used. An important concept, watershed, reflects the shared desire for an inclusive, organic and natural structure that we can grow through the strength of our relationships and human networks.

Because, at its core, leadership development is about trust–relationships between people who inspire each other to reach farther than we would on our own. At all stages of life, our teachers, coaches, mentors, peers, supervisors, political leaders and neighbors have an impact on the work we do and the common dreams work for.


Effective leadership can be cultivated in formal and informal settings at all stages of our lives and within every community. Leadership can be taught in workshops, but mostly is it is absorbed through mentors, coaches, peers and practice. Leadership is learned from spending time with leaders who exhibit these qualities:

  • Agent of Community Change: Leadership is intertwined with change – which happens through dialogue which brings out common desires and weaves them into a shared vision. Some examples: an elementary school Earth Day project, a high school band, a college debate team, a neighborhood action, a workplace initiative, a graceful retirement, a well-done death.An effective leader is conscious of their leadership role, able to talk about the hallmarks of effective leadership, model for others and inspire them through dedication, vision and action.
  • Vision & Invention: A leader understands that the landscape is always changing and can see the path forward—even when the way appears to be blocked. A leader does not impose their vision. They understand that trust and relationship are central to achieve something greater than any one person can. Leaders are adept at creating dialog with others because the are:
  • Inclusive: The leader believes that strength lies in diversity and is eager to open the doors for others to solve problems, learn for themselves, and make mistakes safely.
  • Collaborative: In so doing, the leader draws out the best from others, holds space for people to learn, says yes to their ideas, provides skills for self-advocacy and helps others to actualize. The leader works well as part of a team, and guides everyone to do their best—even if they don’t want to be a leader too.
  • Comfort at the Margins: While many people are uncomfortable with uncertainty, a leader can deal with ambiguity and is willing to risk their comfort and certainty for a greater outcome. They seek new experiences, out of their comfort zones. They are willing to give up truths that appear to be self-evident (orthodoxies) and will even break rules if they have to. The leader has the courage to say difficult things and is also willing to admit when they “don’t know”.
  • Trust: In the end, leadership style is not important. Trust is the essential ingredient to leading an effective team and collective effort.
  • Some additional quality of leadership: Confidence, Courage, Responsibility, Communication and Awareness.


It is mostly the case that leaders exist outside the formal titles of leadership in all corners of our state. They can be cultivated at all stages of life. More “market research” into the distinct needs of these groups will need to be completed:

  • Pre-School Aged Children: The most promising age to start leadership development. Parents have an important role to play in developing a sense of responsibility and common purpose in their young children.
  • School Aged Children – Pre-K – High School: Leadership is developed primarily through the influence of parents, through teachers, coaches and extra-curricular activities and through peers. There are many strong student age leadership programs in Vermont from sports leagues and school bands to clubs, school governance, and formal organizations such as the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps and Vermont Youth Orchestra. It is important to note that youth leadership development differs from adult leadership in some key ways. (Find out more about this).
  • Young Adults: These young citizens are new to the workforce and are building their professional and service networks. Programs such as Leadership Champlain cultivate their skills and sense of community participation. Training is important to them (workshops, one on one events, online opportunities). They also are susceptible to the influence of supervisors, mentors and peers. Field based mentorships provide important capacity for this group. This generation may be less comfortable with the “leader” identity, but they have a great deal of experience with team structured initiatives. They are the future/current leaders of the state. (25-40 years old).
  • Mid-Careerists: As this age reaches key leadership positions and contemplates retirement, it is important to promote mentorship opportunities, succession planning (cultivating leadership at all levels of their organizations) and informal ways to transfer knowledge and leadership skills.
  • Retirees: Vermont’s retirees have a great deal of expertise to offer and a desire to make a difference. Peer relationships are key for this age group.
  • New Residents to the state: How do we invite “new comers” into leadership opportunities, assess their skills, and make the most of the experience they are bringing into our communities?

Within the professional realm, you’ll find leadership opportunities within the following sectors:

–       Education Sector

–       Chamber Programs

–       Higher Ed Associations

–       Government Organizations

–       Nonprofit Initiatives

–       Professional Organizations

–       Private/ Public Partnerships

–       Business Associations


These vision of Vermont’s Leadership pipeline/ hub/watershed in 2018 include these key ideas:

– Every Vermonter has the promise of a healthy and productive life.

– Leadership development transcends institutions and becomes embedded in the culture of our communities, at all levels, where we all own the work of developing leaders and cast the net widely.

– We’ve developed a statewide hub for leaders, mentors with a systems-based approach to providing mentors and leadership training for people of all ages can learn and practice. The hub includes an easily accessed roster of leadership development opportunities that reflect the unique characteristics of Vermont’s citizens and communities.

– Every Vermonter is involved in creating opportunities for others through mentorships and collaborative skill building.

It has been suggested that five years is not be enough to accomplish these goals.


Because of Vermont’s small size, solutions are at our fingertips. Proposed ways forward start with mindfulness and focus on building a framework of lifelong leadership development, supported by an infrastructure that leverages today’s formal and informal efforts and creates future opportunities.

Research: We need to start by developing clear understanding about what promotes, advances and sustains leadership development. Assess the resources at our disposal, identify the gaps, determine sources of funding support.

Change the Channel:
- Re-brand and re-image leadership
– Embed the lexicon of leadership into Vermont vernacular
– Promote the fundamental belief that every individual has agency

Showcase Leadership:
– Catch people in the act of leadership
– Leverage best practices regionally
– Identify and maximize collaborative opportunities
– Focus on experiential learning
– Employ effective measurements of success

Harness People Power:
– Make mentor training a priority
– Educate parents in leadership development (e.g., parenting)
– Recruit brokers to help people get involved (especially new residents)
– Mentors for the everyday kid?
– Create leadership “farm teams” (e.g. junior selectboard, young nonprofit board members)
– Train the trainers from today’s listed organizations to deliver connected
– Community librarians that have personal development resource skill set
– Match-maker leadership liaison
– Today’s group organize providers to provide back-office leadership logistics
– Create forums for deeper discussions

Develop Statewide Initiative: From a Leadership Literacy Initiative to a Vermont Leadership Task Force, there is an interest in a shared framework to better develop leadership capacity in the state. Key elements:

– Statewide plan
– Statewide hub with local spokes
– Systems based focused
– Life stage competency development model
– Assess opportunities (who is included who is not, how to increase opportunities, what is untapped).
– Inventory replicable models
– Curriculum repository
– Communities of practice
– Field Based practice
– Public private partnerships
- Evaluate quality programs and establish standards
– Online resource sharing (e.g., website of all programs marketed, communicated what is the program)
– Funding streams/ Scholarships for those who typically cannot participate
– Results Based Accountability (metrics, indicators)

Transform Education: There is strong interest in youth focused/ school based programs that build civic readiness into pre-school and elementary school and involve youth in mentor relationships that are curriculum based, cross discipline, address conflict resolution, communication and life skills, include team mentoring and feedback loops. The emphasis is on internships, community-based learning and mentoring. This can also be tied into Personal Learning Plans supported by the Vermont Agency of Education.


To determine our progress toward the 2018 vision for Leadership Vermont, we can look at a variety of economic, civic, community health indicators that show that the Vermont economy is booming, citizenship is thriving, the next generation of leaders lives here. At the core of these indicators is the belief that resilient communities depend upon engaged citizens, social capital and diverse and inclusive social structures.


–       Measures of Equity, Civic Engagement and Life Leadership
–       Increasing Rates of Civic Engagement: Voting Participation, Candidates for elected and appointed civic positions, nonprofit board leadership, citizens involved in community proceedings, their decisions have weight and are acted upon
–       Decreasing rates of children and families living in poverty
–       Decreasing school bullying rate
–       Increasing rates of high school graduation
–       Increasing reports of satisfaction with quality of community life and belief in community resiliency
–       Increased indicators of diversified community leadership and social structures
–       Increasing indicators of community health
–       Increasing numbers of children with mentors
–       Mentors “coming out of the woodwork”
–       Organizations of all kinds are working to improve the quality of life of Vermonters
–       The language of leadership-is embedded in the vernacular/lexicon of Vermonters
–       Every Vermonter is involved in creating opportunities for others through reciprocal relationships, mentorships, coaching, peer development, collaborative skill building

Headline Measures:

Vermonters Have Their Act Together
In Vermont, Leaders are Everywhere
Vermont Institutions Tap Leadership Talent

Maple Syrup and Mentors – Vermont Sticks Together
Mentor Mania, Every Vermont Citizen

More in the News:
Rockingham Junior Selectboard Decides to Spend $50K on New Skate Park
Flatlanders Feel Welcome and Bring Volunteer Power to the Northeast Kingdom
Preschoolers advocate for themselves in Bellows Falls
Waterbury Wins National Resiliency Award

Going forward, how do we better understand the leadership needs of Vermont and Vermonters? Some consideration must go into the comparisons we make as we evaluate current offerings and future opportunities.

It will be helpful to create integrative frameworks that help make sense of the complexity. Once we agree upon key distinctions (e.g. life cycles, program offerings, formal v. informal leadership) and their relationships, we can be more effective in creating a useful map that helps people locate themselves and the opportunities that are already all around us. A variety of charts can be created to illustrate and begin to tie together the leadership development spectra from several points of view. Some fields to consider:

Developmental Stage ChallengesSee Leadership Agility by William B. Joiner and Stephen A. Josephs Growth Opportunities Programs
(mentorships, trainings, coaching programs, school programs, informal opportunities…)


 For more information about this report contact: Lauren-Glenn Davitian, Common Good Vermont at davitian ‘at’ cctv.org


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One Response to “Leadership Vermont: Building A Community of Practice for Vermont’s Well-Being”

  1. Dr. Stacie L. L. Morgan

    I am the new Director of the Master’s of Science in Leadership program at Norwich University. Please add me to your email list! Thank you :-) and keep up the great job!

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