My leadership practice framework is a forest

Christa Avampato
3 min readNov 5, 2023
Illustration by Natural Areas Conservancy. https://naturalareasnyc.org/

In my Masters in Sustainability Leadership program at University of Cambridge / Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), Dr. Louise Drake and Dr. Tanja Collavo wrote a beautiful module on leadership. They feature Elspeth Donovan who encourages us to develop a leadership practice framework that helps us understand how and why we respond, make decisions, and act.

For weeks I’ve thought about what my framework might be. Finally, I’ve found a perfect fit: the layers of a forest — soil, understory, vinelayer, midstory, understory, and atmosphere. As a biomimicry scientist and storyteller, this model fits my passions for building my life inspired by nature’s wisdom and the power of story to shift hearts, minds, and actions. It’s fitting that the word “story” is present in the layers of this incredible ecosystem that fosters life.

Soil — home of the earthly nutrients that give rise to the forest
This is what I read, see, hear, feel, and experience that feeds into my imagination and creativity. This houses my personal history, my core memories from the time I was a child to the present day. In that way the soil and what feeds me is always changing and evolving.

Understory — seedlings and saplings that will be the forest’s future
This is where I constantly cultivate new ideas, interests, and connections. Not all of them will mature but they all teach me something. I’m always learning, growing, evolving, and living my life spherically, in many different directions. Here my imagination and creativity have no limits.

Vinelayer — connects the forest from soil to canopy
These are the throughlines of my life and work: nature, stories, and business. These are my vines that run through my work and feed my creativity, and the use of resources that make my creative work possible to share with the world.

Midstory — made up of diverse shrubs and young trees
This is yesterday’s understory, the ideas and relationships that began there that have emerged as those that I’ll cultivate and nurture to their fullest potential.

Overstory — the top layer of mature tree crowns that connect to form the canopy
This is where the ideas I’ve nurtured have come to fruition and reached their full potential. The books I write. The products I create. The relationships that are core to my community. This is also where I fully connect to the wider world, and where the exchange of ideas and perspectives happens.

Atmosphere — with the nutrients from the soil, the atmosphere’s sunlight, air, and rain allow a forest to be sustainable and create an ecosystem where other beings can also thrive
For me, this is the love, care, concern, and support I receive from my community and the wider world. Just as the sunlight, air, and rain pour down through the forest and back into the soil to create a full loop, love nurtures my spirit, refills my cup, and allows me to continue my work. Just like a forest, my work also involves nurturing the lives and work of others.

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Christa Avampato

Award-winning author & writer—Product Dev — Biomimicry scientist — Podcaster. Runs on curiosity & joy. twitter.com/christanyc / instagram.com/christarosenyc