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Substance of Leadership, a program for interior transformation whose aim is to develop more effective and enlightened leaders. In following nature’s pattern, this approach emphasizes that growth develops from within, only later manifesting outwardly. Instead of imposing behaviors imitated from the outside, Substance of Leadership recognizes that authentic leadership has qualities of improvisation based upon underlying belief structures. Substance of Leadership uses issues, examples and understandings drawn from the arts, humanities, myth and ancient wisdom as the basis for guided introspection. This work plants the seeds of change that can result in the right action arising in the moment when it is needed.

Substance of Leadership is applicable in variety of contexts - from families and businesses to civic, community and organizational settings. Rather than teaching exterior-oriented, learned behaviors, Substance of Leadership focuses on interior transformation that results in authentic decision-making, thoughtful communication, respectful collaboration, imaginative use of teams, a playful approach to life and the encouragement of a healthy institutional culture.


Each topic in the Substance of Leadership series focuses on a particular aspect of leadership. Knowledge is gained through reading, listening and watching the primary material and the interior development work takes place through the platforms of personalized multi-media online journaling, masterclasses, individual coaching sessions and the ongoing Substance of Leadership Mentorship Program. This multi-layered approach allows the issues associated with Substance of Leadership to inevitably resonate with daily-life experiences – provoking “in the moment” inner reflection, encouraging the examination of interior motivations, and gradually developing the qualities of confidence, maturity and wisdom that comprise the defining characteristics of genuine leadership.


Substance of Leadership makes use of metaphors from physics, psychology and game theory while also offering analogies taken from mythology, Eastern mindfulness traditions and the arts. The nature of childhood play is examined for its application to adult settings, recognizing that the playground and the chessboard have as much to teach as the boardroom and the battlefield.  Quotes from Isaac Newton, Mahatma Gandhi, Carl Jung, and Lao-tzu reside next to lines drawn from poetry, sacred texts and children’s stories. Together these sources offer imaginative inspiration, mirrors for self-reflection and insights into the underlying dynamics of complex, dynamic environments.


To encourage interior development, the Substance of Leadership approach provides the interplay of structured knowledge presentation, individual guidance and personalized learning. The gradual, focused inner work results in a more complete leader: capable of responding to ever-changing environments and challenges from a balanced position of poise encompassing receptivity, judgment and thoughtful action. patient with everything that is unresolved within your heart, and try to love the questions themselves as if they were rooms with locked doors, or books written in a language you don't know. Do not search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not yet be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the question now. Perhaps then, on some distant day, you will, without even having noticed it, gradually live your way into the answer.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Letters to a Young Poet

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About the Author
John Thomas Dodson Headshot.JPG

John Thomas Dodson is the Music Director of the Lexington Bach Festival and Artistic Director of Conciertos de la Villa de Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. He has served as a consultant to numerous orchestras and organizations in the United States and his innovative leadership was praised by the League of American Orchestra’s for fostering “a culture of experimentation.”

He has conducted concerts in renowned venues including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Severance Hall, Athens' Megaron Concert Hall and Budapest's Hungarian State Opera House.  Dodson studied conducting at Peabody Conservatory of Music and has degrees from Johns Hopkins University and Tennessee Technological University. He received the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, from Siena Heights University in 2016.

John Thomas Dodson is founder of Blue Heron Mindfulness Living.  He has developed an enduring interest in the teachings of mindfulness, intuitive awareness and skillful means as ways to navigate through the challenges of the modern world. His interest in Buddhism has encompassed both academic study and practice experience. Dodson was selected to study Buddhist Traditions in the Himalayas through a program led by faculty from Harvard and Holy Cross universities and sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. He was further grounded in the tradition by a life-long student of Tibetan Buddhist master, Trungpa Rinpoche, and has participated in numerous silent retreats focused on Vipassana meditation as taught by the Burmese-Indian teacher Satya Narayan Goenka. Recently Dodson completed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction courses offered by UMass Memorial Health Care Center under Elena Rosenbaum and the Mindfulness Awareness Practices Course under Gloria Kamler at UCLA's Mindfulness Awareness Research Center. John Thomas Dodson has led mindfulness sessions at colleges and conservatories in the US and abroad including Oberlin College-Conservatory, Washington College and the National Conservatory of Music in the Dominican Republic.

John Thomas Dodson authored Substance of Leadership: Practicing Internal Transformation as an approach combining his experiences as an orchestral conductor, a practitioner of mindfulness and as a life-long student of the humanities.

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