Our Story



Strengthening Wisconsin, Growing Leaders

Leadership Wisconsin is the state’s premier leadership development organization with a national reputation for producing highly effective leaders.  In order to meet community challenges and recognize opportunities, Wisconsin needs leaders who show initiative, listen intently, understand the breadth and depth of issues, assume responsibility, act with civility and exercise sound decision making.



The Leadership Wisconsin Foundation is uniquely positioned as a 501(c)3 non-profit. Through a partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Division of Extension we connects our work with the “Wisconsin Idea“, and the resources of the University of Wisconsin. This means our programming remains high quality, cutting edge, relevant and timely, and that it meets the needs of the diverse individuals and communities of Wisconsin.


alumni-directoryThe birth and history of Leadership Wisconsin is a classic case of vision and collaboration. It is also a great example of building on the experience of others and improving on it. In 1980 Stephen Smith (UW-Madison), Roger Swanson (UW-River Falls), and Laura Beane (agricultural leader from Jefferson county) attended an informational meeting about W.K.Kellogg-sponsored leadership programs in Michigan, Washington, Montana, California, and Pennsylvania.

On January 9, 1981, the Agricultural and Natural Resource Consortium of the University of Wisconsin System approved preparation of a draft proposal to initiate a rural leadership development program in Wisconsin. UW-Extension was asked to administer and coordinate the project. During 1982 and 1983, key leaders met to determine support for the proposal. In May 1983, with the approval of a provisional board of directors, the director of Cooperative Extension submitted a proposal to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which subsequently funded the project. In September 1983, the Board of Directors was officially organized. They approved the university’s curriculum proposal and a fund raising strategy, which officially launched the program. Group I was selected in April 1984 and completed the series of eleven seminars in March 1986.

In 2008 WRLP Board of Directors initiated an in-depth evaluation process. It included gathering feedback from fellows, alumni, specialists in leadership training locally and from around the country, as well as from community members who have witnessed the impact of alumni as they continue to make a difference in their own communities.

First and foremost, the feedback confirmed that the program experience has indeed had a significant, positive impact on the alumni and it continues to remain recognizable for many years after their participation. It is a proven experience of leadership development that produces top-notch leaders for cities, towns, villages, rural regions, counties, and Wisconsin. in public, business, and nonprofit endeavors. for today and tomorrow. Alumni have developed new leadership skills and abilities as a direct result of their program experience.

Secondly we learned that our alumni went on to play active leadership roles benefiting their respective communities, organizations and businesses, and our state as a whole.  Yet, being a successful leadership development program means more than just looking back and sitting on our laurels. It also means looking forward and changing to respond to current and future needs. During our review and the concurrent analysis of our marketing and branding strategies some unique opportunities were uncovered that would enable us to make our exceptional program even better.  As we look to the future we learned that our strong resource of alumni across the state could be tapped into in order to create synergy around the issues we face. Building upon our greatest assets – our successful program experience and our alumni, the leadership education we provide will become an even more critical factor in helping Wisconsin and the nation respond to the powerful social and economic changes that are occurring in communities.

At that time we recommitted to our mission of Developing Leaders to Strengthen Communities, celebrated the success of the past 30 years, and recognized that leadership also requires us to look to the future. We committed to intentionally work to preserve and at the same time continuously improve the core of our programming; expand the number of community leaders in Wisconsin; foster increased sharing, networking, and collaboration among our alumni and enhance their training and support. As we worked to accomplish these goals, WRLP shifted its name to Leadership Wisconsin enabling us to be better positioned to fill the critical and growing need for quality, integrated leadership development training for leaders throughout all of Wisconsin.

Most recently we have been undergoing a new transition for the organization, our programs, partnerships and the leaders we serve. Read more about that transition in the article “The Future Looks Bright!”

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