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Maternal Leadership

From May 1, 2018 African American Point of View

Maternal Leadership

“I am endlessly fascinated that playing football is considered a training ground for leadership, but raising children isn’t. Hey, it made me a better leader: you have to take a lot of people’s needs into account; you have to look down the road. Trying to negotiate getting a couple of kids to watch the same TV show requires serious diplomacy.”–  Dee Dee Myers

This month we will be celebrating the mothers in our lives.  Our parents are often the first people we learn leadership from—both good and bad.  Sometimes we don’t recognize the important leadership skills of mothers that are practiced in the workplace and community.


By nature, I am not a patient person.  I am often on to the next thing before finishing the last thing or even a sentence.  This can create unreasonable expectations of staff.  It can also mean missing others’ ideas and mistakes.  Being a parent has taught me patience.  It sometimes amazes me how long it can take my daughter to put on her socks or get to the point in a story.  If I try to rush her, she usually has to start all over.  By being patient, I am able to slow down and enjoy the moment.  Parenting is about allowing ourselves to be in the moment so that we don’t miss it.  My daughter probably won’t be singing exuberantly about the dog next year or next month.  The same is true in leadership.  Leaders who have the discipline of patience are able to see what’s in front of them and incorporate the ideas of others.


In our house, whenever something bad happens or someone gets hurt it is always the others’ fault.  It is so instinctual to blame others and not own our own outcomes.  Brené Brown is a social scientist who has found that “blame is simply the discharging of discomfort and pain.”  She believes that accountability is a vulnerable process that takes courage and time.  We are vulnerable when we admit fault or empathize with someone that we may have hurt.  Shifting away from blame takes time, listening and empathy.  I am working on taking blame out of my vocabulary at home and owning my mistakes to model that behavior for my girls.  I want to show them that mistakes aren’t always someone’s fault.  Similarly, as a leader I hope to be strong enough to be vulnerable enough to admit my mistakes or be empathetic enough to notice when I have wrongly blamed or hurt someone.  Admitting fault is never easy, especially when moms are trying to be Superwoman at home and work.

When you picture a leader, do you picture a mom? Why or why not?  We have been socialized to picture coaches, political leaders, and businessmen.  My mom taught me leadership lessons like showing up and getting involved if you care about something.  That is a value that I carry with me today.  My kids are making me a better leader every day by teaching me to be patient and own my mistakes.  This Mother’s Day let’s hear it for the maternal leaders in our lives.

LPV Now Accepting Applications: Early Bird Specials

MEDIA RELEASE                                       

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                              


413/737-3876 or c: 413/695-2038

Leadership Pioneer Valley Now Accepting Applications for Class of 2019

Early-bird discounts available

SPRINGFIELD, MA— Leadership Pioneer Valley (LPV) is now accepting applications for enrollment in the Class of 2019 for their regional leadership development program which begins in September.  LPV’s nine-month regional leadership development program engages the Pioneer Valley’s most promising emerging leaders through learning and exploration. Participants are trained in leadership skills by experts in a classroom setting. They also attend in-depth field experiences across the region where they meet with local leaders and explore the region’s economy and culture. Applied leadership experience is developed through work on projects for local nonprofits and government agencies. To date, nearly 250 individuals representing more than 90 companies, organizations, and municipalities have participated.

LPV is seeking applicants from non-profits, businesses and government that are eager to increase their leadership skills and take action to better the region. Applicants are considered in a competitive application process that prioritizes diversity by employment sector, geography, race, gender and sexual orientation. Emerging leaders, mid-career professionals with leadership potential, and those looking to better the Pioneer Valley should consider applying.   Those who apply by June 15th will be eligible for $100 off of their personal tuition and companies with 3 or more applicants by June 15th will receive 50% off one participant.

In its seven years running, the program has filled a critical need for a leadership program that builds a network of emerging leaders to address the challenges and opportunities of the region.  Fifty-three percent of alumni have a new leadership role at work, 64% have joined a new board of directors, and 99% made new meaningful connections.

The deadline for LPV Class of 2019 applications is July 2nd. Applications and further information can be found at

Formed in 2010, Leadership Pioneer Valley works to identify, develop, and connect diverse leaders to strengthen the region.


Just Workplaces and Millennials

Just Workplaces and Millennials

from December 2017 An African American Point of View

All things Millennial continues to be a fascination in the US.  I know my board likes to talk about Millennials and what they think or want.  My Millennial niece hates reading about “what Millenials think or want.”  Managers are trying to figure out how to manage them and retain them.  Non-profits want to know how to get their attention, money, and volunteer time.    Now for the bait and switch, this article is not about Millennials, per se.  The focus is more on just workplaces and corporate social responsibility.  Here’s the Millennial tie-in—Millenials strongly value working for employers that align with their values, but they aren’t the only ones.

According to a recent survey by Just Capital, 79 percent of Americans said they would take a pay cut to work for a just company.  How an organization treats their workers ranked above all issues and stakeholders—like the environment, customers, products, or communities.  With a tightening labor market and continued stagnation of wages, it is telling that today’s workers prioritize working for a “good” business over increased wages.  People want companies to treat people like human beings.

Wait, we don’t have to pay people more, just treat them better?!  Maybe you’re already doing that but not telling anyone.  This is a great opportunity for organizations to tout their corporate social responsibility to attract and retain workers.  Costco was able to distinguish itself early for providing better pay and benefits while Walmart continues to garner negative opinions for its practices.  In a time with increased transparency and sharing through social media, it behooves organizations to be good corporate citizens.  It is much harder to hide unjust practices or poor work environments today.

There are many examples in this region of companies that are just to their employees and the community.  We are seeing more organizations that are aligning their corporate social responsibility efforts with employee values and concerns.  Millennials, in particular, want to bring their whole selves to work and not compartmentalize their community involvement from their workplace.  Yet many organizations have “their causes” that they give to or volunteer at.  These practices are becoming less-attractive to younger workers.  Leading-edge companies are allowing their workers to lead their volunteerism and giving efforts.  This is bad news for the United Way and they are seeing it around the country with flat fundraising when overall giving is increasing.  In alignment with employee-trends, MassMutual recently created an employee-driven philanthropy campaign.  They allow employees to designate the issue focus of their employee-giving campaign.

In an information-rich age where individuals can go-viral and everything is DIY, employees want to be seen as individuals.  Our technology and attitudes have broken down the separation between home and office.  Successful organizations must address their workplace practices, to create just and inclusive places that value their employees and transmit that value out into our communities.  Those that don’t will have trouble attracting younger workers and customers, and might be in the crosshairs of a viral, social media tirade.  Ultimately, we all win when our companies are good neighbors and treat their employees well.

Leadership Lessons from Dogs

Leadership Lessons From Dogs

by: Lora Wondolowski, from November 2017 Issue of African American Point of View

Last January, my family adopted a super-cute, black and white border collie mix rescue dog named Max.  As we have been working to incorporate our new family member into our household, we realize that we need to teach him the rules and lead. Dogs operate in a social structure, like human society, built on hierarchies and rules.  Through Max, I’ve noticed parallel leadership lessons between the dog world and human world.

My kids noticed that Max gets anxious when he doesn’t know who the “leader” is.  More and more businesses are relying on cross-company teams for projects and problem-solving.  One of the challenges of these teams is not having a clear authority figure who is the de facto leader.  The same is true in community-based coalitions and task-forces.  This is often a struggle as individuals vie for power or no one steps forward.   Like our doggy-counterparts, we can also get anxious without a clear leader.

At the dog park, dogs figure out the leader by playing with each other and often all take a drink of water together to release tension and establish bonds.  Dogs also clearly communicate to each other their position.  The leader can be fluid as new dogs come and go and the situation changes.  In the human world, we often don’t clearly communicate our needs, anxiety, and strengths.  Groups try to size one another up with many working not to convey emotion or motives.  We can take a lesson from dogs by clearly communicating ourselves early on.  Leader-less groups can break bread together to establish relationships and trust before fighting for authority.  Additionally, many successful groups share leadership and authority or choose the person they believe has the right skills for the task at hand.

The other big leadership lesson from Max is listening.  Max gives me his undivided attention when we are together (expect when there is a squirrel or cat nearby).  Dogs pay attention to body language and facial expressions.  This is why you can tell your dog that he is terrible using a happy voice and smiling expression without making him feel bad.  I find myself guilty of not noticing the body language cues of employees when I am commenting on something.  Are their arms crossed?  Are they looking away?  Our words don’t always land the way they were intended.  We need to notice and stop.

When was the last time, you gave someone your undivided attention.  I know I often continue typing when an employee asks a question.  That sends a signal that they aren’t as important as my e-mail message.  Max doesn’t check Facebook or look to see if someone more interesting is entered the room.  He makes me feel important and valued.  Listening allows leaders to be present and hear the whole story and instead of becoming reactive.  To solve problems, we need the big picture and details.  Allowing others to be heard also builds trust with those you lead.

Being a leader is never easy.  Yet, maybe a rescue dog can teach me a few tricks to becoming a better leader and the leader my dog deserves.

Senator Eric Lesser Addresses Leadership Commencement

Thirty-four emerging leaders graduate from regional  leadership development program

Northampton, MA- On Wednesday, June 14th from 3- 6:30 p.m. at the Smith College Conference Center, 34 Leadership Pioneer Valley participants presented their community partnership projects and received certificates of graduation from the 10-month program. Six participant-planned team projects served as the capstone experience for graduates; providing hands-on learning while benefitting local organizations.



LPV project teams collaborated with non-profit partners to reach self-produced goals and meet partner expectations. The team projects included working with Westover Job Corps to create and present skills workshops, creation of a signature event plan for the Springfield Central Cultural District, an analysis and plan for building tiny houses for the Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity, the creation of internship program for disadvantaged youth through WGBY, a plan for offering a summer camp for Springfield children through Make-It-Springfield, and a marketing plan for increasing train frequency in the region for Trains In the Valley.


To fulfill graduation requirements, each participant attended day-long monthly sessions from October until May featuring seminar-style leadership development sessions and hands-on field experiences in local communities. Throughout the program, participants refined leadership skills, networked and made meaningful connections, and developed a greater capacity for both community trusteeship and cultural competency.


“LPV has allowed me the opportunity to meet people outside of my profession. People in my community who I never would have met and have such willingness to share ideas. I have been inspired by the individual passions that people have to make a difference and I hope to seek out something for myself,” remarked Dawn Gatzounas, LPV ’17 & Cooley Dickinson Hospital.


Class of 2017 graduates are a culturally diverse group of 34 men and women representing non-profit, private, educational and public organizations throughout Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin Counties. Leadership Pioneer Valley Class of 2017 is the sixth graduating class of its kind.


“Because of the work they have done and the things they have learned together, these impressive graduates of Leadership Pioneer Valley’s program are in a position to charter the future of Western Mass. They are not only the next generation of local leaders, they are already leading — and I am eager to see what they do next,” said State Senator Eric Lesser.


“We congratulate this thoughtful and community-minded group of emerging leaders. It has been a pleasure to see the LPV Class of 2016 develop over the past 10 months, and we are very impressed. These graduates have the tools and the desire to really make a positive difference for the Pioneer Valley and its communities,” said Lora Wondolowski, Executive Director of Leadership Pioneer Valley.


LPV 2017 Graduates


Galina Abashina of Westfield, Jewish Family Service of Western MA
Ryan Barry of Easthampton, Bulkley Richardson & Gelinas LLP
Latoya Bosworth of Chicopee, Springfield Public Schools
Andrew Christensen of East Longmeadow, MassMutual
Sarah Crouse of Granby, Appleton Corp
Tasheena Davis of Springfield, City of Springfield
Morgan Drewniany of Westfield, Springfield Central Cultural District
Patrick Egan of Longmeadow, YWCA of Western MA
James Farrell Of Chicopee, Health New England
Jillian Ferguson Of Northampton, *City of Chicopee
Melissa Fernette Of Greenfield, Baystate Franklin Medical Center
Dawn Gatzounas Of South Hadley, Cooley Dickinson Hospital
Emily Gaylord Of Easthampton, Center for EcoTechnology
Johnathan Griffin Of Greenfield, University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Gillian Hinkson Of Springfield, Hampden County DA Office
Mark Hudgik Of Hadley, Greenfield Community College
Justin Hurst Of Springfield, Springfield City Council
Kimberly Lavallee Of East Longmeadow, Greater Springfield YMCA
Yaileen Medina Of Springfield, MassMutual
Daniel Nietsche Of Greenfield, Franklin Regional Council of Governments
John O’Leary Of Northampton, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission
Julia Ortiz Of Springfield, Springfield Housing Authority
Katherine Person Of Easthampton, Veterans Inc.
Karen Pohlman Of Northampton, *Baystate Health
Mayor William Reichelt Of West Springfield, Town of West Springfield
Jessica Roncarati-Howe Of Chicopee, Greater Chicopee Chamber of Commerce
Kristine Rose Of Holyoke, Mount Holyoke College
Daniel Schwarting Of Longmeadow, ISO New England
Jill Scibelli Of East Longmeadow, Baystate Medical Center
Jane Sicard Of Holyoke, Baystate Health
Renee Tastad Of Holyoke, Holyoke Community College
Giselle Vizcarrondo Of Springfield, *Tapestry Health
Laura Walsh Of Springfield, City of Springfield, Parks and Recreation
Brian Westerlind Of Agawam, The Markens Group, Inc


* changed employers during program



Reasonable Leadership

From January 2016, African American Point of View, by Lora Wondolowski

Every summer I try to read a classic novel and chose Orwell’s 1984 this summer.  Little did I know how relevant his dystopian future would be right now.  One of the things that really struck me in the novel was how their leaders were rewriting history and facts and changing the language.  Today we are having a national conversation about “post-facts” and “fake news” that echoes the world in 1984.

While co-facilitating a training on racial injustice, one of the participants responded to the historic “facts” that were presented with challenge on “white slavery”.  They cited a website that has information about people of European decent that were supposedly enslaved by Africans.  This person used that “fact” as a reason not to listen to anything we presented as if having one “fact” negates the other.  Facts are the foundation for any decisions that we make as humans.  We interpret the facts based on our own experience, reality, interpretations, and assumptions leading to what actions or decisions we make based on the “facts”.  This progression is known as the Ladder of Inference.  If facts don’t match our experience or frame of reference we reject those facts to justify our interpretation.  This doesn’t mean that they are not facts, but don’t match our reality.  In the case of the person in the training, they didn’t want to accept the facts presented and looked for a justification for rejecting them.  They found their own facts that matched perception.

Reason is the ability of leaders to interpret reality and bring others along.  Leaders have the ability to align perceptions with reality and increase their leadership by being reasonable.  Reality is reality regardless of whether or not it is perceived.  The challenge is when we perceive things that are not real or fail to perceive things that are.  The ability to shine a light on that reality is being reasonable and is a powerful tool as a leader.  Reason is the quality of a leader to be accord with reality, even when it is not convenient, expedient, or comfortable.

We are alarmingly faced with leaders that are acting unreasonably by presenting a reality that is false and using fake news and post-facts to justify that reality.  It is being argued that facts are not facts but just interpretations.  If you can’t rely on reason or foundational facts in making decisions, what can you rely upon?  We have to resist the seductive nature of following leaders that provide “facts” that don’t challenge us or are easy.  It is also easy to think that being reasonable as a leader is not bold.  Yet Rosa Parks’ perception of the word and the reality of the world were in alignment.  She acted boldly but with reason when she refused to move.  As a leader, that reasonable move engaged others.  What are the reasonable moves that you can make as a leader in this post-truth era?  How can you highlight reality?  These are the new questions that the leaders we need face and must rise to.

How ‘Leadership Pioneer Valley’ can help grow leaders – and our community

Published on MassLive OPED June, 17, 2016

By Paul Stelzer and Tim Brennan

As a local business and regional planning organization, we see the critical need for investment in leadership development in our region. Future leaders are key to our economic growth and the health of our communities and community organizations. We at the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission are proud to have helped found and incubate Leadership Pioneer Valley (LPV). Over the last five years, we have also had our staff participate in their 10-month leadership development program. Each time, they learned not just how to work effectively with others but also made contacts that are invaluable to the work of both of our organizations. We believe that this kind of development and relationship building is vital given the aging population of the Pioneer Valley and the need to increase the leadership skills of existing and emerging leaders.

According to the Census, by 2020, 35 percent of the U.S. population will be 50 years or older. This age group primarily holds the leadership and managerial positions in our workforce, which creates a need for leadership skills in our region among those coming up the ranks. Currently, 23 percent of the population in the Pioneer Valley is 55 or older.

Our team at Appleton Corporation also believes in the importance of Leadership Pioneer Valley, and we have invested in leadership by promoting LPV’s Leadership 2.0 seminars. We think the value of a program like Leadership Pioneer Valley cannot be underestimated. Nearly everything in business begins and ends with great leadership, and because it’s a complex topic, no one has a complete formula for what makes a better leader. Overall, we are seeing the development of small and large companies as fluid and decentralized, and one that continually reinvents itself and operates locally, regionally, and now more than ever, globally. This puts an added burden on leadership competence.

Leadership Pioneer Valley tackles regional issues of importance and connects leaders through its program of teaching leadership values, using case studies, and peer management of a joint project. Trust, goal setting, and team building skills are developed through this intense program. Building leadership competence is critical to our workforce needs, as noted by the census data. If you want to know why so many organizations sink into trouble, look at that company’s leadership. That’s the value of a program like Leadership Pioneer Valley. It examines, quite holistically, the leadership paradigm and their graduates are more competent and ready to assume leadership roles in any sector they choose to work in. This is not text book learning but real practical, hands on personal development.

We think if you study leadership and watch closely, the real job of leaders is to inspire the organization to take responsibility for creating a better future, and a responsibility to communicate effectively. Leadership Pioneer Valley not only develops those skills, it also creates a regional network of leaders who can work together for the betterment of all in the Valley.

By working with other leaders from both the private and public sector, Leadership Pioneer Valley graduates return to the workplace with a stronger understanding of how to be inclusive. In fact, by the end of the program, 76 percent of participants showed increased cultural competency. Our region is increasingly diverse and our companies and organizations need inclusive leadership to thrive.

Our staff who have participated report that LPV has helped to deepen their understanding of our community’s biggest challenges and opportunities, built important relationships, and further developed their skills as leaders.

As Leadership Pioneer Valley prepares to graduate its 5th class and accepts applications for their 5th Anniversary Class, we agree that Leadership Pioneer Valley is an invaluable resource that local employers can use to help cultivate and retain top talent, much like each of our organizations have done. We urge employers to join the more than 80 other employers who have taken advantage of this critical resource.

Paul Stelzer is president, Appleton Corporation, Tim Brennan is executive director, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.