Eight retail industry leaders from across the country met March 4-7, in Washington, D.C.,  to participate in the inaugural ARA Leadership at Its Best program. This program, sponsored by Syngenta, is based on similar trade association programs geared toward improving communication skills with legislators and agency personnel at all levels of government and to better able understand and interpret government actions. The ARA program participants included emerging branch, marketing and sales managers who demonstrated excellent leadership ability.

Participants were selected by the membership services committee and ARA staff, and then approved by their managers. The first ARA Leadership At Its Best Class included: John Allen of Brandt Consolidated, Vance Dann of Southern States Cooperative, Greg Harmon of Retail Agronomy Solutions, Clay Houchin of Buttonwillow Warehouse, Chuck Lay of MFA Incorporated, Steve Nielsen of United Suppliers Inc., Darron Page of J.R Simplot Company, and John Whitehead of Coastal Agribusiness.

ARA Hosts Inaugural 'Leadership at its Best' ProgramThis intense three-day program began with communications training geared toward sharpening oral and written communication skills. Each participant completed a personality assessment based on DiSC principles (Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Compliance), which evaluated their personal behavioral characteristics. With these results, each were able to identify their strengths and how best to adapt in order to successfully communicate with others of differing characteristics. The communications training was reinforced on the final day with energized public speaking. This session provided participant’s with tools to develop and deliver messages that will effectively help present agriculture’s perspective in a live-audience setting.

"My experience up in D.C. the past several days was extremely fulfilling and challenging. Completing the program almost felt like an additional graduation ceremony. In talking with several of the other participants Tuesday evening, I believe we all share that opinion. Thanks again for the opportunity."

---Vance Dann, Southern States Cooperative

One of the most important aspects of this program was to give participants an understanding of government relations and how to lobby policy issues on the industry’s behalf. Richard Gupton, ARA senior VP of public policy and counsel, offered a comprehensive overview of how ARA discovers and responds to policy issues. Participants were versed on the process of lobbying Congress and a seasoned political fundraiser guest discussed the importance and purpose of political action committees.

ARA Hosts Inaugural 'Leadership at its Best' ProgramOther program highlights included business etiquette and Congressional Insight Training. Participants attended an etiquette lunch where they practiced first-hand tasks such as name badge placement, proper utensil use and business introductions. During Congressional Insight Training, participants gained a perspective of what it is like to be a freshman in the United States House of Representatives. Players assumed the two-year role of a freshman member of Congress while a computer generated the results of the decisions they must make, determined choices and outlined the consequences of those choices based on each team’s decision.

The final day of the program concluded with the opportunity for participants to interact one on one with federal agencies and congressional senior staff. Nancy Fitz, a chemical engineer for the Office of Pesticide Programs in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, discussed the process the EPA uses in writing regulations. She provided tools and best practice solutions on how, when and who to communicate with to influence pending regulations.

Meetings followed on Capitol Hill beginning at the USDA'S headquarters. Participants met with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s Chief of Staff Krysta Harden and Senior Advisor Brandon Willis where they learned about the mission and purpose of the USDA and had the opportunity to discuss industry issues. Meetings followed at the U.S. Capitol with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s senior staff, and concluded at the Rayburn Office Building to meet with staff of the House Small Business Committee. These meetings provided a valuable inside perspective on the workings and process of communicating with Congress and committees.

At the conclusion of the program, participants had a complete overview of government relations and the necessary tools to communicate the agriculture industry’s perspective. Upon program completion, participants are expected to put to practice the skills gained during the program in a variety of ways. These include serving on ARA committees, task forces and workgroups; participating in industry related discussion groups and blogs; providing educational and facility outreach opportunities to elected officials and agency representatives; and representing the industry at hearings or other proceedings.

Since the feedback from the initial ARA Leadership At Its Best program was so positive, ARA and Syngenta currently plan to offer this program again next year. Stay tuned for more information from ARA or visit www.aradc.org.