Stories from the Field

Don’t Lead Alone

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Cleve Justis headshot

It’s always good to have a plan, but things often happen along the way.” This is a sentiment that Cleveland (Cleve) Justis has taken with him from his time with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, to teaching at UC Berkeley and UC Davis, to his own executive search and consulting company Potrero Group. With this ethos, he has inspired and educated organizations and nonprofits at the intersection of business, government and social entrepreneurship around the world, and it all began at NatureBridge!

Cleve’s journey with the Headlands Institute (now known as NatureBridge) started like so many do—as an Environmental Science Educator. After earning his Environmental Science undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley, Cleve set out to explore his passion for environmental science, teaching and introducing young people to the outdoors. That journey led him to a role at the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and the Headlands Institute.

As an educator with the Headlands Institute, Cleve fondly remembers his experiences in the field with students, often recalling the palpable excitement of creating a lesson plan and then having to overcome unexpected obstacles along the way. “The way the Headlands Institute did its work as a unique public and private partnership is a lesson that carries on and makes a difference in people’s lives,” he recalls. Cleve also learned the value in being creative in the field, particularly when interacting with young students, something he now carries into C-suites and boardrooms around the world. 

The skills you learn as an educator are learning how to make education come alive, something [students] may not have in the classroom. You learn to be creative, innovative and how to ‘sell’ education, as a way to keep people’s attention so they can be motivated and excited.
Cleve Justis, MBA, PhD, Founder and principal of Potrero Group and former NatureBridge Environmental Science Educator

Eventually, Cleve became the Director of Education at the Headlands Institute, a position he held until he went on to receive his MBA at UC Davis. He returned to become the Executive Director of the Headlands Institute and had similar executive leadership roles at the Institute at Golden Gate and the UC Davis Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Later Cleve returned to UC Davis to earn his PhD, studying public-private partnerships in entrepreneurial environments.

Today, Cleve runs Potrero Group in San Rafael, CA, an executive search and consulting firm with a team of 15 helping organizations at the intersection of business and government “change the world through partnership and creativity.” Together they support thousands of leaders annually. Cleve also teaches courses in entrepreneurship at UC Berkeley and leads the UC Davis Executive Leadership Program. Cleve’s research, consulting and teaching demonstrates that individuals are rarely ever able to affect change on their own and need a vast network of collaborators to be successful, an idea central to his philosophy on identifying different skills in people in varying sectors and bringing them together to find meaningful solutions to today’s problems. 

Don't Leave Alone book cover
"Don't Lead Alone" by Cleve Justis

All of the lessons Cleve learned through his time in outdoor education, as an entrepreneur working with nonprofit organizations and in higher education culminated in his book “Don’t Lead Alone”. “Don’t Lead Alone” shows how modern social entrepreneurs can learn from the past, enlist new ideas and bring people together with different skills and expertise in a non-traditional model to drive change. He hopes that these reinvented and innovative structures, like those found at NatureBridge, continue to come to the forefront and serve as inspiration for future leaders. 

You can purchase “Don’t Lead Alone” at and Amazon.

Many thanks to Potrero Group for sponsoring An Evening Outside with NatureBridge on May 11, 2023. 

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