Founder and Principal, Valerie Brown
Valerie transformed her high-pressure, high-stakes twenty-year career as a lawyer-lobbyist, representing educational institutions and nonprofits, to human-scale work with diverse leaders and teams to foster trustworthy, compassionate, and authentic connections.
She is an accredited leadership coach at the Professional Certified Coach level (PCC), international retreat leader, writer, and Chief Mindfulness Officer and Professional Pilgrim of Lead Smart Coaching, LLC, specializing in the application and integration of mindfulness and leadership, and she is a Co-Director of Georgetown’s Institute for Transformational Leadership in Washington, D.C.
She holds a Juris Doctorate (J.D.), Master of Arts (M.A.), and Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degrees, and is licensed to practice law in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. She is court-trained mediator.
Valerie is an ordained Dharma teacher in the Plum Village tradition and a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). She leads an annual transformational pilgrimage to El Camino de Santiago, Spain, and other destinations, to celebrate the power of sacred place.
Valerie’s extensive training from lawyer-lobbyist to mindfulness practitioner includes work with the Center for Courage & Renewal and American educator and activist, Parker J. Palmer, the Institute for Transformational Leadership at Georgetown University, the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care & Society, the Center for Compassion Focused Therapy, the Ojai Foundation, the C.G. Jung Foundation for Analytical Psychology (NYC), Chestnut Hill College (PA) Certificate in Holistic Spirituality, Transformational Educational Leadership with CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning), and The Leadership Circle Profile™.
Valerie began studying mindfulness in the Plum Village tradition with Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh in 1995, was ordained in the Order of Interbeing in 2003 by Nhat Hanh, and is an ordained Dharma teacher.
Valerie is also a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), and is a popular teacher at Pendle Hill, a Quaker retreat center outside Philadelphia that seeks to create peace and justice in the world by transforming lives. As certified Kundalini yoga teacher (completing 500 hours training in 2000), she helps leaders discover the wisdom of the body.
Connecting Leadership & Mindfulness: From Type-A Lawyer-Lobbyist to Dharma Teacher
Riddled with overwhelm, fear, anger, and anxiety, in 1995, Valerie began studying mindfulness in the Plum Village tradition with Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.
Through the practice of mindfulness, of looking deeply into her tightly held beliefs and actions, with the support of the Plum Village community, and her study with Nhat Hanh, she joined the Order of Interbeing in 2003. Gradually, she embraced her fear and anger, with transformative love and compassion. This shift from the ‘inside’ led to shifts on the ‘outside’, in her work, relationships, leadership, values, and life direction.
In 2018, she was ordained as Dharma Teacher in Plum Village, France, receiving the Lamp of Wisdom. The deepest aspiration of a Dharma teacher is to manifest mindfulness, concentration, and insight and is guided and protected by wisdom and compassion.
Books by Valerie Brown
Valerie’s books include: The Road that Teaches: Lessons in Transformation through Travel (QuakerBridge Media, 2012) and The Mindful School Leader: Practices to Transform Your Leadership and School (Corwin, 2014).
Lead Smart Senior Consultants
John Baird has served in Friends education as a teacher, head of two Quaker Schools, clerk of two Friends meetings, and member of the Board of Directors of the Friends Council on Education. Trained as a facilitator by the Center for Courage and Renewal, John has led retreats and seminars for schools, Friends meetings, conference centers, and churches. He has an AB in Biology from Princeton University and a Masters in Religious Studies from Providence College. A member of the Durham (NC) Meeting, John is committed to building inclusive and creative communities.
John Bell is a Buddhist Dharma Teacher who lives near Boston, MA, USA. He is a founding staff and former vice president of YouthBuild USA, an international non-profit that provides learning, earning, and leadership opportunities to young people from low-income backgrounds. He is an author, lifelong social justice activist, international training facilitator, father and grandfather.
Día Bùi is a Queer Vietnamese Buddhist, creative, strategist and facilitator. Her commitment to movement building and liberation are rooted in her experiences growing up in a refugee family within a low-income neighborhood. Based in Brooklyn, New York, Día has over 15 years of experience spanning from multi-ethnic, intersectional and intentional leadership cultivation to grassroots organizing.
Karen Lee Erlichman, D.Min, LCSW provides psychotherapy, spiritual direction and mentoring in San Francisco, integrating spiritual practices and body-centered resources to support healing. She is a senior consultant for Ethics of Care and Resource Development with The Dinner Party and the People’s Supper, as well as a faculty member in the Jewish Spirituality program at the Graduate Theological Foundation. Karen’s writing appears regularly on her own blog, and has been published in numerous journals, blogs and anthologies, including Presence: An International Journal of Spiritual Direction and the interfaith anthology Spiritual Guidance Across Religions.
Vinay Kumar is a Leadership and Executive Coach, Author, Speaker. He works with leaders and executives around the globe, with a focus on supporting them and their teams in growing and transforming from the inside out. In addition to coaching, he designs and delivers leadership & team development workshops, as well as designs and leads retreats for executive leadership teams.
Marcia Lee, MA aspires to listen deeply, laugh wholeheartedly, and to create a more just and compassionate world. She is a facilitator of Courage & Renewal® retreats; trains and supports groups in restorative justice, movement building and diversity, equity and inclusion; and is a founding member of Healing by Choice!, a women of color healing collective. She co-founded Taproot Sanctuary (an intentional community living for spirituality, right relationship with the earth, and social justice) and the Detroit Area Restorative Justice Center.
Kirsten Olson, Ed.D., PCC is a developmentally-focused, mindfulness and presence-based leadership coach based in Boston. A recovering academic, she has over 20 years of experience leading transformational shift and culture change in organizations; supporting emerging and transitioning leaders: enhancing effectiveness in global NGOs, educational institutions, social justice and not-for-profit organizations. The author of several books on learning and the effects of schooling, Kirsten was a founding member of the Institute of Democratic Education in America, which links progressive educators for new visions of democratic learning. She is a mentor coach and coaching faculty member at Georgetown University’s Institute for Transformational Leadership. She holds a doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.