A mix of unique experiences, skill development and access to state and local leaders is proving to be an effective and valuable recipe for the Leadership South Dakota program and its participants.
“It was even better than I thought it would be,” says Eric Erickson, a senior account executive at SDN Communications in Sioux Falls. “I wanted to gain a more accurate perception of our state and how each region works for the benefit of the whole, and that’s what I got.”
Erickson, 45, was among the 40 graduates of the program’s first class, which completed its work in April 2015.
The training included seven three-day sessions held in different South Dakota communities over a span of eight months.
His class convened in Brookings, Rapid City, Pierre, Kyle, Aberdeen, Sioux Falls, and Oacoma. Class members toured businesses and landmarks, met with local leaders and discussed challenges and opportunities in South Dakota.
Erickson says the training helped him make friends with prospective leaders from around the state and motivated him to pursue leadership opportunities – not necessarily in public office. He believes that training has made him a better employee and business manager.
“You don’t only have to lead from the top. You can lead from within,” he says.
Leadership South Dakota is a partnership between the South Dakota Community Foundation and Dakota Education Consulting. Its mission is to prepare and promote future leaders in the state by helping them develop the knowledge and skills they need to lead.
Annual classes are limited to about 40 participants. The second class in the revised program, which is finishing up its work, lists 42 members.
Rick Melmer and Tom Oster direct the program. They’re former South Dakota secretaries of education and are also active in educational consulting and administration.
Nikki Gronli, a marketing specialist at SDN, is a current participant in the program. Gronli, 43, started training last September and will graduate in April.
The March session of this year’s training will be held this week in Yankton, which once served as the region’s territorial capital. Manufacturing and technology will be focal points of discussion in Yankton. They’ll also discuss workforce development and recruitment issues.
In Sioux Falls, activities included a tour of Sanford Research, where participants learned about scientists’ work in immunotherapy. In Brookings, they learned how South Dakota State University is helping fight bird flu. In Rapid City, they talked about tourism and visited the Ellsworth Air Force Base (click on the photo above for a larger version).
Sessions also were held this year in the state capital of Pierre and in Kyle, a community on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Gronli is proud of the diversity of South Dakota and the significance of some of the work being done. She also has become more aware of some of the challenges the state faces.
“My biggest takeaway is that there are areas in the state in which I could get involved and do some great work. The area I’ve chosen is Native American poverty,” Gronli says.
In the future, she intends to assist a tribal YMCA organization in Dupree with publicity.
“One of the great things about Leadership South Dakota is you build up contacts across the state with the other members. You also build up contacts with the industries and leaders you meet along the way,” she says.
SDN supports the program as a way to give back to South Dakota as well as to help develop the leadership potential of company employees. In return, the company gets to select a participant.
“Leadership often gets misinterpreted as bold and loud when, in fact, leadership must start with listening and learning. It’s those elements that we, at SDN, most appreciate about Leadership South Dakota,” says Mark Shlanta, CEO at SDN. “The program takes a comprehensive approach to South Dakota’s history, culture and economy to develop true leaders for our future.”
Participants for the next class will be selected soon; the application process opens in April.