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Maria Leister

Associate Director, BD Leadership Development

Maria brings many years of experience in designing and leading in-person and distance-based initiatives that help organizations integrate interdisciplinary and collaborative approaches to solving complex issues. Maria is the Associate Director, BD Leadership Development at Kotter, translating Kotter research into powerful learning experiences and sustaining transformation with each client by leveraging leadership development content. As a faculty member at Harvard Medical School’s multidisciplinary Global Mental Health program, Maria teaches Human Rights at the intersection of the right to health, policy, and justice to leaders from government, international, non-profit, and humanitarian organizations.

Prior to joining Kotter, Maria was the director of a legal clinical program at Harvard Law School. At Harvard, she was instrumental in the design and implementation of leadership and coaching programs, mentoring initiatives, and fellowships. She has consulted with organizations like the International Rescue Committee, Girls Inc., and several international and national government organizations. Specifically, she has designed and facilitated leadership programs for UNICEF, which continue to be used by UNICEF for staff in disaster and emergency settings. Formerly a Harvard University Fellow, Maria holds a BA in Philosophy from Elizabethtown College and a Juris Doctorate degree from IU Bloomington.

Maria is based out of Kotter’s office in Cambridge, MA.


What motivated you to pursue leadership development in your chosen profession?

My students at Harvard Law School motivated me to pursue leadership development. I noticed the death of leadership skill-building at law schools. While law schools did a fabulous job of training would-be lawyers, there was a lack of leadership skill-building. While doing research on leadership, I noticed that so many professionals lacked the leadership skills needed to lead people and organizations. My desire to help others build their leadership grew, which is why I decided to dedicate myself to developing leaders.

Flashback to when you were 10 years old. What do you want to be when you grow up?

I wanted to be a scientist or a lawyer. I actually became that lawyer that I had dreamed about when I was 10 years old! I’m still working on figuring out how I’m going to become that scientist someday.

What are your superpowers?

I can make a pretty decent loaf of sourdough bread!

What’s got you thinking right now?

I think a lot about how adverse life experiences have the capacity to create opportunities for transformative change in the lives of individuals and within organizations. Specifically, I have been reading about the internal and external forces that move us to act in ways that serve our growth or seek to destroy us. The resilience and post-traumatic growth in individuals who have experienced traumatic events inspire me because it shows that potential exists for incredible transformation.

Share something about you that would most surprise people.

My native language is Korean, which is something that surprises most people I know. Although I have lost most of my Korean language skills, I am currently relearning it with the goal of being able to speak Korean fluently again within the next couple of years.