By Rep. Kristi Noem
My grandma gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received, which I’d venture to guess is typical for almost everyone. When I was about to become a new mom, she told me, “As a parent, you’re going to have to say no to a lot of things. Say yes as often as you can.” So, when my kids wanted to race to the end of the driveway, we did. When they wanted to play in the mud, we did. When they wanted to play basketball outside a little past their bedtimes, we laced up our shoes and hit the pavement. We said yes as often as we could, and 22-plus years later, my grandma’s advice has become a deep-rooted philosophy, not just for parenting, but for leadership.
This November, I held my third annual Lead Now Youth Conference. Among the lessons shared with the 220 attendees was the idea that young people ought to say yes as leadership opportunities come their way. It’s easy to discount yourself as “too young for the job” or “too inexperienced,” but I encouraged them to try anyway. Say yes and see where it goes.
Liz Ferro, founder of the non-profit Girls with Sole, shared a similar message, explaining that despite her tough upbringing she pushed past obstacles, said yes to opportunities, and set her sights on something bigger. The result? Liz has completed over 60 marathons (at least one in every state), finished five Ironman Triathlons, and started an organization aimed at instilling strength, self-confidence, and pride in young women across the country.
As author Steven J. Stowell wrote, however, “Great leaders find ways to connect with their people and help them fulfill their potential.” Maybe no one in the business understands this more than SDSU head football coach John Stiegelmeier, who has built strong teams for 20 seasons running. Coach Stig shared his understanding of teamwork and what’s needed to produce a winning team – whether on the field or in the classroom.
Representatives from Google and The New Colossus, a Sioux Falls-based group dedicated to preventing human trafficking, were also on hand to give students tangible ways to lead among their peer groups today. After all, it’s not your position in life that matters most. It’s the choices you make to do what matters that creates true change and happiness. Our final presenter, motivational speaker V.J. Smith, focused in on this lesson. He told the story of a Walmart employee in Brookings named Marty. Marty might not have sat on the top of the corporate ladder, but he was a leader in his own right. Through gratitude, compassion, and positive thinking, Marty inspired those around him and eventually the world. It’s an example all of us would benefit from following.
I get excited looking around South Dakota and seeing the boundless potential housed within our young people. As adults, we have a responsibility to empower our kids to step up and be leaders right where they are. After all, those who are seizing opportunities in the classroom today will be more comfortable with their ability to seize opportunities for South Dakota tomorrow. That’s something to which we should all say yes.