Leadership Montana alumni in action: John Trudnowski, Butte - Class of 2018
Tom McGree
July 31, 2023


Kristin Smith, Libby, Class of 2011

Kristin Smith, Libby, Class of 2011
Interview by Nick Pancheau Billings, Class of 2019

Kristin Smith wears many hats; an advisor and trainer for the county planning department, a twice-elected city council member, and the chair of the city planning and zoning commission. Most importantly, however, is the catalyst for community change that she opened in 2014: Cabinet Mountain Brewing. At her core, Kristin is a dedicated relationship builder; focused on building bridges across gaps in the community to address the limitations that the small town of Libby, MT faced over the past decade. She concedes that relationship building takes time because people are impatient.  Dubbed “Libby’s Living Room”, Cabinet Mountain Brewing Co serves as a place where those relationships are fostered and given time to grow.

Kristin and her two daughters live in Libby, a place that answered the question: “What area in the state is surrounded by the most forest- that’s where I want to go.” Libby is experiencing a renewal of sorts. As it leaves behind two decades of local EPA cleanup, Libby started a new chapter a few years ago from which to emerge. Kristin and Cabinet Mountain Brewing have played a big part in writing the new chapter by advancing open and proactive conversations. These led to a host of community initiatives including a renewed focus on downtown, additional festivals, enhanced tourism, and the formation of a Libby’s first farmer’s market, which has grown every year over the past 5 years.

The most impactful memory from her 2011 Leadership Montana Class was a tour that hit close to home. A journey through the copper mine in Butte gave Kristin perspective on the issues that Libby was facing. When paired with Gracious Space training and the resulting ability to pause and focus on what’s being said, Kristin came away with tools to frame the conversation in her own community.

The strongest impact Leadership Montana had on Kristin was self-discovery. She utilized the Gracious Space concepts to become a better listener to those with opposing views. This has resulted in building more productive relationships with others, an all-important piece of the puzzle when leading a community through change. The context of Gracious Space has allowed her to bring siloed organizations together and build bridges between groups with similarly aligned missions.

The role of Leadership Montana in the state is closely tied to what she appreciates most about Montana. “This place attracts salt-of-the-earth people with wildly differing political views.” In Libby, these people are united by the same notion: Montana has vast open space that allows them to live close, but not too close to one another. Montana is a place where one can survive but may not have all the creature comforts. Leadership Montana provides tools that unite Montanans around commonality, and context to discuss things that divide them. Kristin sums it up this way, “Montana is a place where you must rely on your neighbors and helping your neighbor can’t be limited by the things that divide us.”