Who We Are

Our Promise: To organizations seeking to truly make a difference, we partner to create healthy, resilient and innovative workplaces.

We Are Experienced Professionals:

As experienced professionals who have led and/or advised complex organizations in the art of capacity building, we know that our goal to make a difference each day will drive our success and that of our clients.

Simpson Van Oot & Associates, LLC d/b/a The Difference Leadership Group was founded in 2017 by Dr. Robert E. Simpson, Jr,. and Peter D. Van Oot, Esq.  Rob and Pete have collaborated together for the past decade advising Boards and Executive Leadership Teams on strategic leadership and organizational governance, including presentations at numerous regional and national conferences on how boards and leaders can and must make a difference in the organizations they serve.  

The DLG team and its outside collaborators bring significant experience in leadership, executive coaching, board governance, marketing, branding, strategic planning, and policy advocacy to organizations with the focus on making a difference in the outcomes that these organizations are seeking in the implementation of their mission, purpose and vision. They have worked within regional and national large and small nonprofits including healthcare institutions, colleges, prep schools, significant foundations, community foundations, performing arts organizations, economic development corporations, public television,  and environmental organizations; as well as for profits including the oil and gas industry, banking and financial institutions, ski resorts, and the entertainment industry.

DLG’s core leadership and governance thesis is that the key driver of board, executive management and organizational under performance and dissatisfaction is the organization’s failure to fully clarify and convey its true and driving mission and purpose; which we pose as the “Why We are Here” proposition. 

We firmly believe that, without clarification of mission and purpose, board, executive management and organizations are structurally and practically limited in both effectiveness and owner/employee satisfaction and engagement.  Most importantly, organizations that do not have a vigorous and clear mission and strong and resolute sense of purpose will remain stuck/flat-lined; unable to inspire their leaders, employees and clients; thus blocking the organization’s ability to move forward and succeed.

Consistent with this thesis, we embrace the Governance As Leadership[1] model developed by Dr. Richard Chait and his colleagues.  The first step of analysis under the Governance As Leadership model is to identify and refine the subject organization’s mode of leadership, which run along a continuum:

  • Fiduciary Mode in which the board exercises its legal responsibilities of oversight and stewardship. Key question — “How are we doing?
  • Strategic Mode in which the board makes major decisions about resources, programs and services. Key questions — “What are we doing?” and “Where are we going?
  • Generative Mode in which the board engages in deeper inquiry, exploring root causes, values, optional courses and new ideas. Key questions — “Why are we doing this?” and “What are the possibilities?

[1] Governance as Leadership by Richard Chait, William Ryan, and Barbara Taylor written by G. Douglass Lewis.

Rob Simpson, DLG President, has worked as a CEO in psychiatric hospitals and as a strategic consultant to Boards and Executive Leadership Teams.  He has been recognized as a Grassroots Champion by the American Hospital Association and a Behavioral Healthcare Champion by Behavioral Healthcare Magazine.  He has coached and continues to coach leaders throughout the country on the interface of strategy, mission and purpose and has partnered for close to a decade with Phil Harkins, Founder of Linkage, Inc. at the annual Global Institute for Leadership Development (“GILD”) in leading the Senior Executive Leadership Team of CEO’s from around the globe.

Rob has also served on numerous Boards throughout his career including leadership positions with the following:

  • Vermont Business Roundtable as Board Secretary (2011), Vice Chair (2012-15)
  • Vermont Association of Hospitals & Health Systems Inc., Vice-President, Secretary-Treasurer of the Board, Chair of the Mental Health Committee, Chair Bylaws Committee (2006-2015)
  • Zen Peacemakers International, Inc., Co-Chair Board of Trustees, (2006-2009); Chair Finance Committee.  The organization is a non-profit organization that is committed to creating a network that integrates Zen practice, social service, and interfaith work in the practice of socially engaged Buddhism to transform individuals and communities by responding to some of the most difficult problems of our time – poverty, AIDS, homelessness, and a lack of skills necessary for employment.

Peter Van Oot, DLG Vice President and Board Chair, has served as a Director and as environmental, corporate, strategic and governance counsel at Vermont Community Foundation PLLC for three decades.  A sage, seasoned and strategic counsel to sophisticated for-profit and nonprofit organizations and other mission-based organizations for three decades, Peter advises clients on strategic, governance, and regulatory issues and is frequently called upon to lecture on corporate management, strategic and governance topics.  In his legal practice, Peter has been consistently selected by his peers for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America©, has been recognized in Best Lawyers in America© as “Lawyer of the Year”, and is rated AV Preeminent®, the highest peer rating standard, by Martindale-Hubbell® in his areas of practice.

Peter has also served on numerous Boards and Commissions throughout his career including leadership positions with the following:

  • Vermont Land Trust, Board Chair
  • The Nature Conservancy – Vermont Chapter, Governance & Nominations Committee Chair
  • United Way of Windham County, Board Chair & Campaign Committee Chair
  • State of Vermont Natural Resources Board District Commission, Board Chair
  • Judicial Nominating Commission (established to vet candidates to replace a retiring judge on Vermont’s U.S. District Court), Commission Chair (2014 & 2009)
  • Upper Valley (VT & NH) Corporate Council, Board Chair
  • Green Mountain Economic Development Corporation, Board Chair
  • Brattleboro (VT) Development Credit Corporation, Board Chair
  • World Learning, Inc. (the parent organization of The Experiment in International Living; the School for International Training, which includes SIT Study Abroad and SIT Graduate Institute; and the global development and exchange nonprofit World Learning), Audit Committee Chair

Peter was named Volunteer of the Year 2011 in the eleven Northeast States by the Northeast Vermont Development Association.


Menu of Services:

We provide a menu of services that support our clients to clarify, communicate and execute: mission, purpose; vision and brand promise; corporate board governance; leadership development; marketing communications and employee engagement strategies to achieve excellence throughout their organization.

Audit Checklists:

We also provide specialized assessment “Audit Checklists” for each of our menu service areas making it easier for organizations and leaders to strategically move forward and make a difference in their outcomes.