Emerging Leaders 2015 Review
by Representative Mathew Wollmann
I was first informed about the Emerging Leaders program at the close of this past legislative session. I heard nothing but great things about this challenging but rewarding opportunity and was graciously nominated by Representative Dean Wink, the speaker of the House. After being nominated I was required to submit my resume, answer a multitude of questions, and give reasons why I wanted to attend the program. The program receives over 200 applications from across the United States, while only 50 are chosen. I was honored to be selected to attend this year’s program.
Monday July 6th I left Sioux Falls airport and made my way to the historical University of Virginia. Upon arrival I got settled into my room, and got ready to meet the staff, faculty, and legislative members I would be working with for the next three days. Before attending it was required to read the books, “The Second Machine Age”, “Plato’s Republic”, and “What got you here won’t get you there”. These assignments also included multiple exerts regarding nutrition, leadership, and economic development.
That first day we started bright and early discussing economic inequality and the new machine age we are finding ourselves in. Professor Edward Freeman the faculty leader led the discussion. I very much enjoyed this discussion being the youngest participant and growing up with technology my entire life. I almost feel that we as a generation have been shaped and molded along with the technology we live with on a day to day basis. Education and technology drove most of the conversation. It was agreed upon among the group that we as a society need to start from a young age teaching kids what a computer really is, and how powerful of a tool it can be. And we as legislators need to keep up with technology ensuring that society can benefit the most from it, that being economically or socially. When it comes to technology you have producers and consumers. Today’s society is able to see media and information at extremely fast rates, while being anywhere in the world. No more Pony Express. It’s alright to be a consumer, but in order to fully optimize the technology in your hands society must teach each other to become producers. Instructing our youth & youngsters to not just consume what technology has to offer, but produce new technology & innovations for others to consume. This can be accomplished by providing computer science courses within elementary schools, emerging today’s youth into coding classes at a young age.
We transitioned from technology and started to discuss Plato’s Republic focusing on the cave allegory with Professor Dominic Scott leading the discussion. We were in fantastic hands being that Scott is a visiting Fellow at Merton College Oxford. This passage describes what it’s like to spend life in a cave, to leave the cave, and then to return only to be disappointed on how difficult it is to bring your ideas across. No matter how great the idea there will always be those that disagree completely, are hesitant, or those that will follow you out of the cave to see the light. I saw this from multiple different standpoints, and at no time ever thought that as a legislator I am the only one attempting to find the light. One fantastic idea emerged from the discussion that multiple other states already implement. During a designated amount of time, state legislators would switch districts and hear from a different group of constituents to try and gain a better idea about what can be done at a state level to help all citizens. I would like to see something like this within South Dakota to keep us all out of the dark. My favorite quote from the class summed this section up very well. Education is not a matter of instilling knowledge, like putting sight into blind eyes, it is a process of reorientation involving the soul in its entirety.
Next on the agenda was public and private partnerships led by Professor Mary Margaret. Mary is an Associate Professor of Business Administration. This was very interesting because we had a room full of around fifty legislators from across the U.S, along with representatives from corporations such as Comcast, Wal-Mart, and Darden Restaurants who each brought a different perspective. Phenomenal discussion was had and it became clear how businesses are more than just a store for consumers. They are an integral part of a community. The success of local businesses can make a community either thrive, become stagnant, or worse fail.
We also discussed how regular exercise helps. Registered Dietitian Jodi H. Harris led the discussion. I firmly believe that it is a balance between mental, physical, and spiritual strength in order to achieve great results. To sum up the class, cut mindless eating, ditch the sugary drinks, even your fruit juices, and always make time in your day for exercise.
Simulations were also implemented to let us all work together to solve simulated problems. Our first tested our ethical behavior and put us in charge of a toy department. It was all computer based, and we were instructed to take our newly developed toy and properly market and distribute it to make the most profit. We found out later on that our toy was made with a certain plastic that 1/100,000 children and adults were allergic to. This among other problems tested our ethical behavior, and gave us a score at the end. The next morning in class we not only dedicated the whole morning to ethics, but discussed our scores as a group. My personal favorite was where we discussed ethical issues each legislator has seen within their state. My eyes were opened to unethical behavior that is just not seen at the South Dakota level. This made me very proud to serve in a state that doesn’t need an ethics commission to remain ethical.
We all have bad habits. Even the best leaders the world has seen had bad habits. But the key is to distinguish those habits and learn to suppress them. That is exactly what we covered in the book, “What got you here won’t get you there”. In the book, the author lists 20 bad habits that challenges our interposal behavior. These habits include adding too much value, or always having the desire to add our 2 cents to every discussion, providing needless sarcasm or cutting remarks, starting sentences with negatives, not listening, passing the buck, or even failing to express gratitude. We discussed each of these in depth, and even took 45 minutes to pair up and discuss personally what we ourselves need to change to become a better leader. I highly encourage everyone to search for these twenty bad habits online, and make a personal commitment to change them one at a time.
It all wasn’t classroom material. We had the distinct opportunity to tour Monticello, President Jefferson’s home. I have previously had the opportunity to visit Mt. Vernon and can say that both are must visits. Jefferson’s Monticello shows off his architecture skills as well as his scientific studies and inventions. I can say that both President Washington and Jefferson know how to pick a great location to settle down. This wasn’t our only trip off campus though. Professor Freeman was so kind to invite us all to his personal residence. I believe this just shows how dedicated and down to earth all of our instructors were.
In summary, the SLLF Emerging Leaders Program is by far the greatest leadership conference I have attended. Walking into the classroom, the letters before your name are dropped, and everyone works together to discuss topics without politics getting in the way. The corporate members attending give us an insight to how businesses view politicians and government. There was never a time where I felt solicited, or troubled that they were in our presence. Many individuals may feel that corporate dollars have no place within legislative leadership conferences, but I think it shows the support that the business community has to develop future leaders of America. At the end of the day we all tie our shoes the same way, and all want what is best for future generations.
In closing I would like to thank Speaker Dean Wink for the nomination, the support by The State Legislative Leaders Foundation led by President Stephen G. Lakis, the donations from many business sponsors, the amazing faculty and staff, and of course the other fifty or so members attending the course.
If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Representative Mathew Wollmann at 605-480-3038 or email at [email protected]