By Katie Ziegler
Twenty women legislators from 14 primarily Southern states convened in Winston-Salem, N.C., for leadership training, advice sharing and discussions about economic development.
South Dakota Representative Kristin Conzet (R), past president of NCSL’s Women’s Legislative Network, presided at the meeting, which was sponsored by the network, the NCSL Foundation and Reynolds American.
The general tone of collaboration and wisdom-sharing was set from the start as the participants introduced themselves and spoke about a female leader in their state who has inspired them. The first session featured Sydney Richardson, dean of adult education at Salem College (the oldest women’s college in the nation), discussing Meaningful Mentorship.
She noted that one of the most important things a mentor can do to be effective is to have a plan for the mentoring relationship. Consider: What is the goal? How can the mentor use other resources to best help the mentee? Richardson discussed different learning styles—such as visual, logical, solitary, social and physical—and helped the participants identify their style and consider how to work best with another person who has a very different style. The group discussed the importance of active listening, of being authentic about your own successes and failures, and how to allow a mentoring relationship to grow and develop over time.
Building Bridges: Collaborating across Differences that Divide with facilitator Sara Lawson was a look at some of the limitations of conventional collaboration and win-lose negotiation. The group spent the morning having interactive discussions about modes of conflict—competing, collaborating, compromising, accommodating and avoiding—and levels of communication. Lawson introduced the alternative approach of “stretch collaboration,” which can have room for asserting and cooperating. All parties in stretch collaboration must agree that something is “stuck” and the status quo is not acceptable. Participants must also be open to the possibility that they might change and recognize that the goal is not just to change the other parties. Lawson shared a phrase that can be helpful when in a difficult discussion: “Help me to understand how you arrived at that view.”
Michelle Cook, vice chancellor at Winston-Salem State University, moderated a panel on economic development in the city. Gayle Anderson, the president of the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce, and Allen Joines, the longtime mayor, talked about how the city was struggling several decades ago after manufacturing enterprises had left. They worked with many other community members to develop the vision for what was eventually called the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter. Today the IQ is home to more than 150 companies, 1,500 students, 3,600 workers, and five higher education institutions. David Mounts, CEO of the retail technology company Inmar, discussed why he chose the IQ to relocate its headquarters. The president of the Innovation Quarter, Eric Tomlinson, shared some of the successes and challenges that arose along the way. All of the panelists had suggestions for other communities seeking economic development ideas.
Another session featured conversations about leadership in the legislative arena. Former Wyoming house majority leader Rosie Berger and Tennessee Senator Dolores Gresham (R) talked about what they learned in their tenures as leaders and committee chairs, and the rest of the group shared stories as well. Participants discussed how to find meaning in their roles, how they prepare for new challenges, and what advice they have for women just entering public service.
The meeting concluded with Leading in Transitional Times, facilitated by Mike Scott of Eagle’s Flight training. The fun and engaging workshop combined experiential learning games with facilitated discussions to strengthen critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills. The program progressed through the five key elements of change management: harnessing your vision, defining expectations, communication, optimizing the impact and sustaining your energy. Scott also shared a communications framework to use in times of great change, HEAR. Highlight the relationship, Explain the change, (pause to let them absorb the information), Acknowledge the concerns, and Reaffirm your commitment.
Two evening events allowed the group to experience Winston-Salem’s history and also hear from female executives at Reynolds American, Ella Long and Shay Mustafa. The Reynolda House Museum of American Art featured a special exhibition about Georgia O’Keeffe. The Old Salem Museums and Gardens are an authentic view of the rich cultural history of early Southern life, with special emphasis on the Moravians in North Carolina.
The meeting was a big hit for participants, one of whom noted that it was “a good, intensive work out for my legislative brain.” The Women’s Legislative Network will present additional leadership seminars in 2018 and going forward.
Katie Ziegler is the program manager of NCSL's Women's Legislative Network.