“Before PLS, I was leading by gut feeling – a sometimes effective, but often exhausting way to go through life, with lots of bumps along the way. PLS introduced me to a whole set of framing tools around the core interactions and functional areas that a leader must face every day. Whether it was insight into personal communication (through the lens of the State of

the Union), or strategies for persuasion (through the study of LBJ), or how an undisciplined decision process can lead to devastating results (the Challenger exercise), I was introduced to a whole set of ideas and frameworks that have transformed the way I approach my work and increased my effectiveness significantly. I also understood more clearly than ever before what it means to lead effectively: It means that you listen; you are flexible; you seek to serve first; you are humble; and you find your grounding in a set of principles and values that are fixed rather than a set of ideas that are fixed.”

Early in her career, Presidential Leadership Scholar Holly Gordon understood the impact of a good story. After more than a decade of experience as an investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker, Holly combined her passion for storytelling with her desire to bring about positive change in the world. She successfully co-founded Girl Rising, a global campaign for girl’s education that uses the power of individual stories to share a big message: Educate girls, change the world.

“I really threw myself into Girl Rising almost flying blind,” Holly said. “What PLS allowed me to do was turn on the lights and have a map for how you lead change.”

After completing the PLS program in 2015, Holly accepted a role as Chief Impact Officer for Participant Media, an entertainment company that produces films, television, and digital content centered around social change. Participant Media is behind popular films like Lincoln and The Help. Holly creates campaign strategies to ensure viewers have the opportunity to take action.

“I’ve landed in a job where I am working on some of the most important social issues of our time,” she said. “Whether that be fighting on behalf of the environment, the education system, or our upcoming film on the foster care system, with PLS I have this extraordinary network of experts and community leaders with whom I can connect with to get advice, introductions, and partner with to drive measurable change across the country and the world. In my job at Participant Media where I’m working on a whole spectrum of issues and trying to make change, the PLS rolodex is on my speed dial.”

Follow Holly



Holly Gordon

Class of 2015

Civil Rights, Social Action or Advocacy

Chief Impact Officer,


About Her Project

The world is moving faster than ever, with more media noise than ever. Ideas that can improve lives are getting lost in the deluge. At the same time, more is being asked of leaders than ever before. Through her experience building Girl Rising, Holly Gordon knows the challenges of leading change and believes that to achieve transformative outcomes today, leaders must have a deep self-knowledge, an understanding of story, and the training to build a movement.

During her Personal Leadership Project, she has developed a fellows program to help social-change creators unlock their own human potential and bring their transformative ideas to market.