Dana Brewington Stebbins, MSW, Esq., (’88) is an attorney with an advanced degree in human behavior and more than 25 years of experience in the fields of law and social policy, the private practice of Real Estate/Land-Use law; and professional consulting services in Community and Economic Development, Emergency Management, and Legislative Strategy and Policy on the local, state, and federal levels. She is the President and CEO of The Cornelius Group and The Law Offices of Dana B. Stebbins, Esq.
In addition, to serving on the LGW Board of Directors, she has served as a board member for The Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, The Metropolitan YMCA of Greater Washington, Melwood, The Parren J. Mitchell Foundation, The Federal City Council, The Maryland Economic Development Corporation, and is a Past Chair of the District of Columbia Chamber of Commerce.
Ms. Stebbins has served in all three branches of government. She was a Judicial Clerk to Judge William Pryor in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. She was Legislative Counsel to the House Committee on Small Business when Congressman Parren J. Mitchell was its Chair. Dana also served as a Presidential appointee to the Small Business Administration and to The Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
Can you give us some background or insight into your personal leadership path – including your sources of inspiration and most important lessons learned?
I have been able to work in a variety of different fields throughout my career. I have an MSW in Psychiatric Social Work, and I have a law degree. With my Master’s, I learned how to motivate people, and how to figure out what drives people. My law degree, allowed me to add another level of analysis to an understanding of human behavior and what the law allows and doesn’t allow regarding action. I ended up using those skills and both degrees when I went to work for President Jimmy Carter. President Carter appointed me to three different positions. As the first African American female in those positions, my background helped me to be successful. To lead people who weren’t used to being led by non-Caucasian men, I tried to understand where they were at and what motivated them.
How did you first become involved with Leadership Greater Washington and the Signature Program?
LGW was founded by the Board of Trade. At the time, there were four individuals who partnered with the Board of Trade to create LGW based on the Leadership Atlanta model. I was an active member of the Board of Trade, and I was very close to Barbara Blum partially as a result of having served together in the Carter Administration. When it came time to recommended people, John Tydings and Barbara Blum recommended me.
Being in the second class (’88) was great. It’s one thing when only you are carrying the responsibility of leadership by yourself, but when you are with a group of people in leadership roles together, you can finally let go and relax. People are involved in LGW for the same reason; to broaden their understanding of leadership. The biggest reward was learning about the Greater Washington region and understanding that beyond the District, Maryland and Virginia also keep the region going. You get to know people from all over with different leadership styles. Through LGW, you have a network you can call on for whatever you need. I have never lost that feeling that I can always call on a member for help and I am always there to offer an LGW member mentorship, advice, or recommendations.
Tell us about your experience on the LGW Board?
I think my first appointment was in 1999; I was appointed to be the Class Ambassador for my class. It was many years later, when I came back to the board, at Chair Joe Budzynski’s request. I enjoy the board very much now; I’m almost a historian! My memories from 1988 to now -nearly 30 years of memories- allow me to help the board understand what keeps the organization strong, how to retain and recruit members and to maintain member interests. The LGW Board now is really a representative governing board. I want members to understand that the board is always acting on their behalf.
Why do you keep coming back to LGW, why do you stay with the organization?
I had a rewarding experience during my Signature year which evolved into long-lasting friendships and deep relationships. Within my class, there is still a group of 7 or 8 of us who have dinner every month. That’s a 29-year friendship!! There are also other people in other classes who are important in my life. There are things that you can continue to learn within LGW. Beyond learning what you learn substantively about the region, you meet people that you would never ever actually meet if it weren’t for LGW. You may sit in the same meetings and pass by each other in common spaces, but you would never know your colleagues the way members get to without LGW. All of that friendship, comradery, closeness, it’s because of LGW. There are experiences you can still have as a member that you wouldn’t have without Leadership Greater Washington. The main thing is the relationships that allow you to do your job better and live your life more fully.
Can you share with a particular relationship or partnership that evolved out of your years as an LGW Member?
When I decided to leave the Hill, a member of my class, Maureen Dwyer, asked me if I wanted to join her law firm. Upon joining the firm, she became my mentor in the firm, and that relationship existed because of LGW. Outside of LGW, I’m on a lot of different boards, and almost every time I’m in a board meeting, somebody from LGW is also there with me. LGW is made up of people who have an interest in the same initiatives, and we find each other in the same circles.
How do you envision the future of the region? What about LGW’s role in that future?
Sometimes I worry about the harshness of the discourse that exists today. People are unwilling to understand people whose views are different from theirs. Members have a responsibility to infuse their organizations with the values that LGW gives you. The culture we have in LGW is very different from the culture that exists outside. LGW values courtesy, communication, and respect. It is up to us to bring those values to the region and highlight that however we can.
LGW encourages dialogue and understanding, through interacting and bringing people of different views together on various issues. As an organization, we must find a way to convene and lead as many people as we can and remind others of those core values.
How do your efforts and leadership at your current organization impact the future of the Greater Washington region?
When people know I’m a part of LGW there is an assumption that I have a level of expertise and ability to lead. As an LGW Member, I have an opportunity demonstrate what that means and what it means to be a leader.
What do you enjoy most about Greater Washington?
I enjoy the diversity of the region and what it brings in terms of culture, education, entertainment, and recreation. The diversity of people that we have in this region spans across the cultural world.
We have many universities and colleges that bring students and educators here with a lot of different experiences and backgrounds. There are so many non-profits that you can get engaged with and volunteer if you choose to. That doesn’t happen in every state or region. In Greater Washington, you can find any entertainment, art event, sporting event, or cuisine you want. In the Metropolitan Washington region, you don’t have to look very far to find something that brings you joy.
Please tell us something most people might not know about you.
I’m an avid roller-skater and bowler. I roller-skate once a week and I bowl once a week. I love those two activities because they don’t involve thought so that I can clear my mind!