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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



Women Leading Today

From March issue African American Point of View

by: Lora Wondolowski

I have to say that I was dreading writing an article for Women’s History Month this year.  Regardless of your political leanings it was a bruising year for women.  We witnessed a barrage of anti-female sentiments from political candidates and voters throughout the year.  Sexual assault crisis hotlines experienced a 30-40% increase in calls this fall.  Women’s aspirations of seeing a woman break the highest glass ceiling were dashed.  How do women heal and lead?

In 1912 the women’s suffrage movement was frustrated with their lack of progress after years of advocating for the vote.  Alice Paul and Lucy Burns proposed an “audacious” and massive march on Washington to coincide with Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration.  Their group got to work organizing this massive march.  Their march in March of 1913 drew 8,000 marchers including Helen Keller, Nellie Bly, and Ida Wells and a half-million spectators. Additionally, a group hiked in the cold from New York to the march in Washington, covering 234 miles in 17 days!    This was a huge display at the time that helped the movement continue and eventually win the vote in 1919.

Earlier in January of this year, two women leaders took the world by surprise organizing the largest protest march ever. More than a half-million marchers descended on DC while millions of others joined affinity marches around the world.  The march in my little Greenfield, MA drew roughly 2,500 people.  It was in inspiring show of women’s leadership and perseverance around the world.

The other stand out at the event was the sea of pink kitty hats worn by most of the marchers.  Jayna Zwiman and Krista Shuh designed the hat’s pattern with the owner of The Little Knittery in LA.  They made the pattern available for free online and organized hundreds of knit-alongs around the country.  Craft stores and knitting shops around the country reported a shortage of pink yarn in the weeks leading up to the march.

In LPV we have been discussing the leadership capacity of advocacy.  Advocacy is an important skill for leaders—it is the act of giving voice to your intentions.  Leaders need to be advocates in order to engage others in their vision.  An advocate should be clear, compelling, credible, and committed.  The message of the women’s march was “women’s rights are human rights.”  This was a clear, compelling message from committed leaders that engaged others.

The Women’s March showed the world that women’s leadership has not gone away in the face of an atmosphere that was increasingly hostile to women and our rights.  The spirit of the early suffragists is alive in a new generation of women leaders who are advocating for their basic rights and dignity in a hostile and divided world.  Their leadership is giving hope to many that despite steps backwards, new women leaders have stepped up to make a difference.

Boston-Based Leadership Experts Present “Science of Leadership”


Boston-Based Leadership Experts Present “Science of Leadership

Maximizing Your Human Quotient Emphasized

Lora Wondolowski, Executive Director                                                              (413) 737-3876 or c: (413) 695-2038

Feb. 22, 2017                                                                                                       

SPRINGFIELD, MA— Leadership Pioneer Valley will host a three-part leadership development series on March 6, 13, and 20th from 5:30- 8:00 pm at the Scibelli Enterprise Center in Springfield. The series will be led by Strategy of Mind, a global leadership and team development firm based in Boston. The company specializes in building the Human Quotient, a concept they created that refers to a unique set of evidence-based qualitative skills crucial for professional success. They work across a diverse range of industries and with companies of all shapes and sizes.  This innovative and dynamic series will focus on the science of leadership and best practices for 21st Century leaders.  Topics include understanding of the “human quotient”, mission-driven leadership, and managing stress.

The session leaders include David Brendel and Springfield-native Ryan Stelzer.  David is a certified executive coach, psychiatrist, and philosophical counselor. David specializes in coaching executives and other high-level professionals on leadership development and career transition. David writes about his approach to coaching in frequent blog articles for the Harvard Business Review and other publications. David earned an MD from Harvard Medical School and a PhD in philosophy from the University of Chicago.  Ryan is a management consultant who specializes in both individual and organizational performance improvement. Prior to his work in consulting, Ryan served at The White House as a Presidential Management Fellow during the Obama Administration. Ryan holds a master’s degree from the University of Chicago and undergraduate degrees from Boston University and the University of Cambridge in the UK. He has written articles for various publications.

Dinner will be included in the event, which costs $100 for general admission, or $75 for Leadership Pioneer Valley members. Tickets can be purchased at

Leadership Pioneer Valley is a non-profit that works to identify, develop, and connect diverse leaders to strengthen the region.

Black History Month


As we enter Black History Month, we wanted to take the opportunity to highlight the leadership of some of our local African American leaders. Sojourner Truth was part of the Northampton Association, a utopian community based in what is now Florence. She was an activist in the Women’s Rights and Abolition Movement. Truth was born into slavery and was originally called Isabella, however, she managed to escape to a new family who bought her freedom (National Women’s History Museum). Truth dedicated herself to helping other slaves secure freedom, and became a prominent orator of her time delivering speeches across the country to important figures. Truth published a biography detailing her life and philosophies entitled Narrative of Sojourner Truth (Folsom, Black History Month: The Crusade of Sojourner Truth).

From this black activist we can learn the essentials behind resistance, and cultivate a new generation of leaders. From Truth, we learn that leadership and politics go hand in hand, and in this day and age we are asked to consider the relationship between activism and leadership (Zammit-Lucia, 2017). Activism is defined by Permanent Culture Now, as an effective way of making long lasting social change in your community (Permanent Culture Now). Activism is closely related to advocacy, a topic that is discussed in detail in the Leadership Pioneer Valley “Positive Leadership Curriculum” . If one views advocacy as the act of using your voice or acting for the purpose of supporting a cause, there are indeed similarities between the two. Both practices require clarity and a compelling case (Positive Leadership, 4). We are able to use Truth’s work with speeches as an example of success due to their clear message for equality, her speeches eventually became a staple of the Women’s Rights Movement (National Women’s History Museum), and thus she was able to demonstrate effective leadership. It is also essential to note Truth’s inspiring resilience, a tool that she relied on in order to survive and continue fighting for Civil Rights. Effective leadership requires the resilience of the participant to be able to overcome obstacles and hardships in order to carry out their original mission.

African-American leaders like Truth, teach us the need to be strong advocates in the face of injustice. There are many opportunities to lead locally in the Pioneer Valley with organizations like Western Mass Showing Up for Racial Justice. By getting involved with the local community you can help make a positive impact through activism, and develop a fuller understanding of black history in the Pioneer Valley.

Works Cited:

“National Women’s History Museum.” Education & Resources – National Women’s History Museum – NWHM. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.

Dr. Burton W. Folsom, published on Feb. 1, 1999. “Black History Month: The Crusade of Sojourner Truth.” [Mackinac Center]. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.

Truth, Sojourner. “The Narrative of Sojourner TruthSojourner Truth.” The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, by Sojourner Truth. Read it now for Free! (Homepage). N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.

“About Us.” Sojourner Truth Memorial. N.p., 18 Aug. 2015. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.

“Leadership in an Age of Activism (SSIR).” Stanford Social Innovation Review: Informing and Inspiring Leaders of Social Change. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.

“Introduction to Activism.” Permanent Culture Now. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.

Pioneer Valley Handbook, Positive Leadership on Advocacy and Resilience,


Other Ways to Get Involved/ Resources: Healing Racism Institute of PV

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.

The New Workplace: An Evolving Professional Environment

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the “new workplace” and what it is evolving into.  I know you are conjuring in your mind something akin to the Jetsons with robots scampering around and lots of glass.  As much as I would love a robot to get me coffee in the morning (no assistants at this non-profit), the evolving workplace is happening right now and isn’t all about technology.  There are a number of trends emerging that affect workers and business alike including: multi-generational workplaces, diversity of the workforce, and technology.

Okay, I know that most of the hoopla is around Millennials in the workplace, but the fact is that we now have four generations in the workplace: Traditionalists (born before 1946), Baby Boomers (1945-1964), Generation X (1965-1984), and Millennials (1984-2000).  Right now the focus is on Millennials but the real issue is accommodating and working with folks from so many different frames of reference and tendencies.  It is not helpful for so much energy being taken up with rants about why all the other generations “hate Millennials.” To succeed in this workplace stew, we need better awareness of the difference, similarities, and motivators of each generation.

Demographic shifts in this country tell the story of increasing diversity, especially among younger generations, which is driving increased diversity in the workplace.  As Baby Boomers and Traditionalists retire, younger and more diverse populations will be moving into the workplace.  This is also happening at a time when more companies see the value of diversity and the buying power of People of Color is growing; demanding products and companies that meet their needs.  The second part of the equation is women.  More women than ever are in the workplace and are going to college while the participation among men in the workforce and in higher education is on the decline.  Fewer women are completely stepping out the workforce after the birth of a child which will shift policies around work/family balance.

The last factor to consider is technology.  The use of technology in the office has become ubiquitous in a way that was hard to imagine just twenty years ago.  Videoconferencing, smart phones, and other connectivity applications are allowing workers to exist remotely.  There are also increasingly better tools for collaboration.  This is reshaping personnel policies and creating new possibilities.  Workers are arriving with their own technology which is forcing companies to figure out how to integrate our tablets and other devices into the networks.  The cost of technology will be an increasing cost for businesses whether it is just the cost of keeping up or training workers.  With such rapid change, it is hard to imagine how the workplace will look in 20 years.

The 21st century workplace is evolving before our eyes becoming more diverse and technology-driven.  Understanding how to navigate these new waters will be incumbent on leaders to be aware-of and responsive to the trends.  Workers also need to be aware of how this will affect them to allow them to pivot and take advantage of new opportunities.  The companies and leaders of the Pioneer Valley can’t afford to ignore the trends or we will be left behind.