top of page

Fortify LEADS growing leadership across the region

Mitch Figert

May 31, 2022

Fortify LEADS announced today the launch of its innovative approach to leadership development. Fortify LEADS works with individuals, teams, and communities to support leadership development and training with a dynamic and customizable approach.

Started in 2020 with a vision to cultivate and develop a pipeline of leaders in the community, DeKalb LEADS began as a partnership with Community Foundation DeKalb County and the DeKalb Chamber Partnership, and created a steering committee with expertise across industry, geography, and demographics. In early 2021, as DeKalb LEADS was concluding its first cohort, regional thought leaders suggested the idea of expansion, and Fortify LEADS was born. As part of a nonprofit organization, Fortify LEADS will nurture the groundwork that has been laid by the local program to offer training and connection to communities across the state and invest in leaders beyond DeKalb County.

“We recognize that the need to develop a pipeline of leaders in our rural communities is not unique to DeKalb County,” says Sarah Payne, VP of Fortify LEADS. “We now have 21 leaders who have completed the DeKalb LEADS program in just 2 years, and we are already seeing the impact locally. Just imagine the impact that will be had as we support leaders to take a more active role in supporting their own communities across the entire state!”

Fortify LEADS knows strong leaders are key to cultivating thriving communities. In today's fast-paced, ever-changing world, a community must help connect, train, and grow its pool of leaders intentionally and sustainably. When people become more knowledgeable, connected, and compassionate, not only do they feel more invested in their community, but they feel more responsible for its future. Fortify LEADS is positioned to be a catalyst for this effort. The program challenges community champions at all levels of influence to cope with the complexities of the day, take informed risks, and put what is good for the community at the center of their decision-making- both personally and professionally.

These trained individuals will be armed with a deep understanding of themselves and their community. They will have honed the skills to maximize their collective and individual strengths to drive positive change through leadership and civic responsibility. Fortify LEADS will continue to operate the DeKalb LEADS program in DeKalb County and will look to expand to additional counties in 2022-2023. By balancing world-renowned training and facilitation with a local emphasis, Fortify LEADS will be uniquely positioned to reach a broad sector of emerging leaders and encourage them to step up into key roles and lean into courageous leadership strategies.

As part of their expansion efforts, the Fortify LEADS team has grown to include Sarah Payne, VP of Fortify LEADS, Mitch Figert, Director of Business Development, and Amy Neal, Director of Curriculum. Combined, the team of three brings more than 50 years of combined leadership and community development experience from throughout Northeast Indiana.

“We know our region is eager for leaders who are willing to show up, dig in, and help to create a future that is innovative, forward-thinking, and inclusive. We believe that to scale leadership and cultivate a culture in our region where integrity, respectful conversations, and innovation are the expectation, we need a program that is different. We need a program that is tailored for each community, with a balance of local experts and fresh perspectives. This program will create leaders that are aligned with their core values, foster trust, and equity, and move us to a place where courageous leadership is the expectation,” says Figert who has worked in the nonprofit sector for the past two decades and is a former elected official.

“As a DeKalb LEADS alumni, it is exciting to take the work that was started in DeKalb County and grow the curriculum to support other communities. What sets our curriculum apart is the focus on leadership skill development as well as content knowledge, we will walk the walk, not just talk the talk,” says Neal who has more than 20 years in local education and most recently served as the Innovation Coach for DeKalb Central Schools.

To learn more about the services offered by Fortify LEADS visit their website at and follow them on social media @FortifyLEADS.

Fortify LEADS is the premier leadership development program in Northeast Indiana offering an innovative approach to cultivating leaders.

bottom of page