By Thomas H. Little, Ph.D.

At SLLF, we are not accustomed to tooting our own horn, but in this case, “toot toot!” Last week, the Governing Institute Women in Government Leadership Program announced its 2016 class and it included five graduates of SLLF’s Emerging Leaders Program (ELP). This feat is even more impressive when you realize that only ten of the twenty-two participants are state legislators – in other words, half of the legislative participants are graduates of our program! Toot-toot! Can we pick’em or what?

Congratulations to Representatives Raumesh Akbari (Tennessee, ELP Class of 2015), Wendy Horman (Idaho, ELP Class of 2014) and Cherrish Pryor (Indiana, ELP Class of 2011), and Senators Stephanie Brice (Oklahoma, ELP Class of 2015) and Erin Oban (North Dakota, ELP Class of 2015).

After their participation in our program was brought to my attention, I decided to look back at their applications for SLLF’s Emerging Leaders Program and see what, if anything, these five outstanding women had in common (except, of course, legislative service). Not surprisingly, their applications revealed several common themes when it came to defining effective leadership: effective leadership involves cooperation, communication, representation and impact.

Cooperation. According to Senator Erin Oban, “At a time when our politics has become too divisive, too uncompromising, too personal at times, I choose to focus on building relationships in an effort to find common ground wherever it lies.” Rep. Pryor added that successful political leaders understand “sometimes the best way to be politically effective is to set aside politics and do what is in the best interest of the community.” Successful legislative leaders do not work alone, but work together to achieve the best results.

Communication. The ability to effectively communicate one’s ideas, whether to colleagues or constituents, has always been an important component of legislative leadership. In today’s world dominated by social media and collaborative decisionmaking, it may be more important than ever. According to Senator Bice, “Being able to clearly and succinctly describe what you want to accomplish is very important, but so is being able to hold a conversation with your constituents and colleagues on every level.” Representative Pryor finds a similar path to success in the Hoosier state: a leader “must also be an effective communicator, not only expressing their views, but listening to others’ points of view.”

Representation. Rep. Akbari made clear the representative role of a legislator, noting that “As leaders, we are not monarchs. We are elected by people who expect us to represent their voices in government….and be responsive to their needs.” Rep Horman concurs, noting that as a leader, she is always “searching for common ground while maintaining the values my constituents elected me to represent on their behalf.” As my own father would say, effective legislative leaders “don’t forget where they come from!”

Impact. According to each of these legislators, their efforts count for very little if they do not positively impact the lives of their constituents, their state or their country. Senator Bice reminds all legislators of this fact, noting that “We must always be aware that our decisions will have a lasting impact on our constituents and our state.” Rep Akbari seconds that motion, arguing that a primary responsibility of a legislator is “to pass laws that will positively impact our community.”

As you can see from the comments above, it is no surprise to us that these five legislators were selected for this prestigious program. We are proud of them and hope that at least in some small way, we might have a positive influence on their journey to this point and beyond. Toot toot!