Montana effort: Leadership training needed

Consider this, commentary by Karen Sullivan

Is Montana suffering from a lack of leadership? Or are our leaders merely under-utilized and misunderstood?

By Karen Sullivan for the Montana Standard

If there are true leaders, do they have a general understanding of public policy issues important to the state’s future? Or are the individual interests of leaders on economic and social issues too often segregated into ideologies that lead to harm rather than good?

Has mistrust become a byproduct of how Montana’s public interacts with its leaders? And how can we as followers prompt our leaders into feeling less entitlement and more entrustment as the leading process occurs?

Worthy questions, all, and meaty answers aren’t readily forthcoming. But a core group of Montanans that wants to explore the answers is starting a process that will train a group of people willing to learn how to be better leaders — while putting aside ideology and partisanship — for the good of the state.

The program is called Leadership Montana and is an outgrowth of the 2003 Montana economic summit sponsored by U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Conrad Burns.

An organizing committee headed by Bruce Whittenberg, former publisher of The Billings Gazette, is steering the process that will make available (beginning this Sunday) applications for the first class of Leadership Montana.

(A similar, local effort, is in the works at the Butte Chamber of Commerce called Leadership Butte. It is being promoted by the local Blueprint for Change committee).

In the process, 40 Montanans will be selected to spend a year learning about leadership and other issues and how Montana might benefit from such inspiration. The process will continue annually.

An array of business and educational representatives is involved, including the Davidson Companies, Glacier Bancorp, Montana AFL-CIO, Washington Corp., MDU Resources Group Inc., Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Montana, the Montana Chamber of Commerce, the Montana University System, and the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity.

Individuals involved include the Northern Cheyenne Tribe’s Norma Bixby, Missoula Mayor Mike Kadas, First Interstate Banc System CEO Tom Scott, Big Sky Economic Development Authority Executive Director Joe McClure, Montana Chamber of Commerce President Webb Scott Brown and Butte’s own Cindy Stergar, director of the city’s Community Health Center.

Organizers are looking for funding to supplement the $2,500 tuition for each of the 40 individuals involved in the leadership classes and other costs.

Leadership Montana’s mission statement speaks to the problems and opportunities the program hopes to address.

"As Montana looks to the future," says the statement, "we face a changing and challenging economy, ever more complex issues regarding the health and security of our people, our management of natural resources, and an increasing need for business, education and government to be partners for a strong, growing Montana.

"Progress depends on developing a sustainable core of committed leaders who understand these issues, are willing to listen to and learn from each other, celebrate cultural diversity and diverse opinions, and demonstrate a passion for the Last Best Place."

According to Stergar, who is promoting the program in Southwestern Montana for Leadership Montana, "trusteeship" will be the working philosophy of the group.

Trusteeship, in this context, means that leaders are trustees of enormous responsibility, "not looking out only for yourself, but rather looking out for the whole state and for the people who entrust the state and themselves to you," says Stergar.

Leaders, according to Stergar, can be elected officials, but they can be found in all sorts of other places.

"We’re creating leadership at all levels to move the state forward in all respects," says Stergar, adding that leaders can be state workers, people committed to keeping their businesses in Montana, social workers, miners … the list goes on.

"We’re looking for a sense of leadership that is something people are called to rather than elected to."

Leaders who embrace trusteeship — who realize they are entrusted with something bigger than themselves — are the kind of people who don’t avoid diversity of opinion.

"They embrace diversity, they’re not afraid to listen to various groups and differences," says Stergar. "It’s doing what’s best for everyone and moving forward versus the losing situations we often find ourselves in. We know it’s idealistic, but the way we govern and lead ourselves in the United States and Montana has to change."

In this process, Stergar adds, "Diversity is expected and respected, with both sides or many sides working together to move to the greater good."

Those at certain levels of our current democratic process often ask themselves "What do I want?" Leaders who realize they are entrusted with the faith of their followers more often query "What needs to be done?" Through this leader-enhancing effort, Leadership Montana is marking a wide distinction between the two questions and styles.

Kudos must go to Leadership Montana for initiating this very important effort. Best wishes to the first group of leaders who will be participating.

Karen Sullivan’s column appears Tuesdays on The Montana Standard’s editorial page. Input is welcome by e-mailing


For more details

See for more information and, this

coming Sunday for the class applications online.

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