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Founded in 1975, the NCSL Staff Leadership Section (LSS) has about 410 legislative staff members. The purpose of LSS is to help staff become effective leaders and to provide a forum to share information. In an effort to expand our membership, LSS amended the bylaws to be more inclusive. Our new LSS Staff Section chair, Charity Stowe, deputy director of legislative affairs, leadership assistant in the Indiana General Assembly, invites all Young and new Professional Staff to join LSS.
One goal of LSS is to provide support for legislative staff in leadership roles and to prepare new staff to fill those roles. This quarterly electronic newsletter features articles on state legislative internships and mentorships programs and much more. LSS hopes that you will enjoy our quarterly electronic newsletter, become a member and/or be a contributor.
At the August 2017 LSS Boston meeting, one of several topics evolved around state internship programs. A member of LSS, Catherine E. Gunsalus, chief of staff for the speaker pro tem in the Kansas House of Representatives and intern coordinator for the Kansas Legislative Internship Program, agreed to share her insights about Kansas’ internship program.
Once an intern herself, Gunsalus is passionate about seeing interns equipped with the necessary tools to succeed in the public arena. She has seen more than 20 percent growth in intern attendance under her leadership and hopes to see that number increase in the coming year.
State legislative internships offer some of the most unique and dynamic opportunities in the public policy arena for aspiring college students, providing first-hand, experiential understanding of the state legislative process. But let’s be honest: As full-time legislative staff, overseeing interns, or intern programs entirely, can have its challenges. Whether reviewing applications, coordinating projects, or addressing proper etiquette, interns need attention. Gunsalus offers the following tips on how to sustain a successful intern experience at your statehouse.
With busy schedules (and I mean busy), overseeing interns isn’t always a top priority. A key to having a successful intern or intern program is to keep it reasonable, effective, and timely. Create a culture of excellence in the little things and you’ll find it has a big payoff overall. Look for ways your intern application process can be streamlined, design policies that provide reasonable structure and guidelines for the future, and create opportunities for interns to discuss issues during session. Make excellence a theme in your office and help both you and your intern(s) succeed from start to finish.
Reality is, even the most difficult intern can succeed in at least one thing. Your job is to find that one thing. Not every intern is alike and usually only 5-10 percent of interns will actually do a great job. But that doesn’t mean you can write off the other 90-95 percent, especially if you’re “stuck” with one of them the rest of session. If your office has been assigned a less-than-stellar intern, find one thing they are good at and let them run with it. Send them to a committee, have them monitor an event, or conduct research about your member’s district. Finding that “one thing” will (hopefully) provide you, and even the most challenging intern a worthwhile experience.
Be the leader you want your intern to be. Exemplify the characteristics you wish they had, whether it be a stronger work ethic, quality writing skills, keener policy knowledge, or simply better manners. Make the message clear that they are a direct representation of the office they work for and the member they serve. Help them understand what kind of responsibility they have as a legislative intern. In turn, be the example of responsibility you so wish they embodied.
Choose your words wisely and give them every opportunity to show you just how great a millennial can be. So, whether you oversee your member’s intern or manage a program altogether, remember that maintaining excellence, finding things interns are good at doing, and leading by example are ways you can create a successful, long-lasting experience. Keep in mind that while not every intern will shine, not every intern will fail either. With these tips, you can help every intern you encounter succeed and in turn, come out looking pretty good yourself.
Mentorship programs for new staff are important to helping them learn the legislative culture and can lead lasting relationships. At the LSS August meeting Jennifer Miller, counsel to the Massachusetts Senate, and Britte McBride, from the Law Office of Britte McBride, offered suggestions on how to find and utilize a great mentor. They discussed how to select a mentor. They are living proof that lifelong friendships can develop through a mentor and mentee relationship.
Some of the insight they shared is that mentorship is a two-way street. It is important to set expectations, be clear and direct. In addition, fostering collaboration and enthusiasm is equally important. Mentoring can provide a fresh set of eyes to issues, help identify new patterns to solve problems and give your career a boost.
One of the most insightful comments from the panelists was to pay attention to generational differences. They suggested taking time to learn about young people’s culture by reading teen magazines or blogs. Understanding how people communicate is important.
If you are thinking about starting a mentorship program, there is a lot of information available to help you on your journey. This website can help you get started.
Five Minutes of Fame provides a forum for LSS members to share an experience that might help others. I’d like to share a recent positive exercise to enhance morale called “bucket filling.” In the California state Senate we conducted the “bucket filling” exercise with two separate administrative offices with overwhelmingly positive results. Tom Rath, co-author of "How Full is Your Bucket," suggests that more than 60 percent of working Americans receive no positive recognition. According to Rath, a study found that 90 percent of people were more productive when they’re around positive people.
This is a low-cost and simple exercise. To get started, please take a moment to view the fill your bucket prezi here. In summary, we purchased small buckets from a discount store and provided Post-it notes. Five minutes were given at a staff meeting for people to write comments to deposit in each personalized bucket. The personalized bucket note must be specific, individual and deserved. Staff were invited to share one positive comment at the staff meeting and the remainder of the notes could be read privately.
Mark Twain is quoted as saying “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” Best of luck with your bucket filling!
-Sheron Violini, California State Senate
A special thank you to our LSS past President Jennifer Janowski, minority legislative staff director for the Utah House of Representatives; Aurora Hauke, legislative staff, Alaska House Minority Caucus; and Tom Krause, Georgia Senate chief of staff to the majority leader for their hard work and dedication. Finally, thank you to Catherine E. Gunsalus for her contributions and advice.
Megan McClure, senior staff assistant
NCSL Liaison to the Leadership Staff Section
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