Somerville to be first U.S. City to offer Adaptive Leadership training to residents; 20 residents will be selected for free training course


Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone announced this week that he has established the Somerville Academy for Innovative Leadership (SAIL), a new initiative to encourage and empower more residents to be effective leaders in the Somerville community. To launch the initiative, which is coordinated by the city’s ResiStat program, residents are invited to apply to take part in The Art and Practice of Public Leadership, a free, intensive course on adaptive leadership led by leadership expert Dr. Hugh O’Doherty. The course will begin in March, making Somerville the first municipality in the nation to offer adaptive leadership training to residents.

“Two years ago, we brought in Dr. O’Doherty to teach City managers and department heads the same adaptive leadership skills used by some of the top companies, schools, nonprofits and government organizations in the nation because to achieve a well-run city – one that is a great place to live, work, play, and raise a family –  city employees should have access to the same cutting-edge skills that have aided the likes of Google, Harvard University, or the National League of Cities in their efforts,” said Mayor Curtatone. “The program has been a great success among our staff, and now it’s time to offer training in these skills to some of the most important agents for positive change in the community: our residents.”

The six-session Art and Practice of Public Leadership course is open to all Somerville residents or employees of nonprofits based in Somerville that serve Somerville. Based upon a demonstrated interest in community engagement and leadership, 20 participants will be selected. Upon completion of the program, Mayor Curtatone will award participants with a certificate at a special ceremony to recognize their achievement. The course is free, but in exchange for this leadership training, the city asks that participants give back 30 hours of community engagement of their choice. Each participant will be able to choose their own activities from participating in public meetings or joining a board or commission to volunteering at a local nonprofit or starting a new community-based effort.

“We’re offering this program to residents of any age or background because we know great leaders can be found in surprising places, and the goal of SAIL is to both boost current community leaders and help others emerge,” said Mayor Curtatone. “So whether you are a veteran community advocate or if you are a student or a parent or a business owner who just wants to make Somerville an even greater city, we want to give you the opportunity to acquire some new tools to pursue that goal, and we want you to decide how best to use them.”

Dr. O’Doherty, a Senior Associate at Cambridge Leadership Associates, teaches leadership at the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government, and has also taught leadership at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, the McGregor Burns Academy of Leadership, and the University of Maryland. Also an expert in conflict resolution, he directed the Inter-Group Relations Project in his native Ireland where he brought together political and community leaders together to establish protocols for political dialog, and he has addressed the United Nations Global Forum on Re-Inventing Government.

“In some ways, adaptive leadership is a quite radical idea, because it involves everyone in problem solving by giving the work back to the group,” explained O’Doherty. “The approach also offers a framework for identifying and addressing the root cause of an issue – something we call an adaptive challenge. It’s really quite impressive to see a municipality offer this kind of training to community actors so that they too can get to the heart of what they would like to achieve or change.”

Persons interested in boosting their leadership skills and taking a more active role in the community are encouraged to apply for the program. To apply for SAIL, please visit For additional information, please contact Meghann Ackerman at 617-625-6600 ext. 2120 or

SAIL will take place on two Saturdays (9 a.m.-5 p.m.) and four consecutive Thursday evenings (6:30-9 p.m.) from March 31 to May 4, 2013 at Tufts University. To fully benefit from the program, the city asks that participants commit to attending all sessions.

More on Adaptive Leadership: Adaptive Leadership is an approach that looks for the root cause of issues and involves all stakeholders in problem solving. This “bottom-up” leadership style has been adopted by many organizations, including: Microsoft, the United States Department of Justice, the New York City Fire Department, and the Stonewall Organization.


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