Nine retail industry leaders from across the country met in Washington, D.C., March 3-6, to participate in the second class of ARA’s 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 understand and interpret government actions. The ARA program participants included emerging branch, marketing and sales managers who demonstrated excellent leadership ability.

ARA hosts Leadership at its Best ProgramParticipants were selected by the ARA Member Services Committee and staff, and then approved by their managers. The second ARA Leadership at Its Best class included: Scott Buchli of WinField Solutions, Rick Greene of MFA, Inc., Adam Lovelace of The Andersons, Ian McGregor of McGregor Company, Jeff Nagel of Ceres Solutions, Don Rosie of Meherrin Agricultural & Chemical Company, Pat Schaddel of Brandt Consolidated, Randy Stephens of SureGrow, and Josh Thornsbrough of Growmark.

This 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 to successfully communicate with others of differing characteristics. The communications training was reinforced on the final day with energized public speaking. This session provided participants with tools to develop and deliver messages that will effectively help present agriculture’s perspective in a live-audience setting.

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. The ARA policy team offered a comprehensive overview of U.S. government, lobbying and how ARA discovers and responds to policy issues. Other program highlights included congressional insight training where participants gained a perspective of what it is like to be a freshman in U.S. House of Representatives, as well as an etiquette lunch where they practiced tasks such as name badge placement, proper utensil use and business introductions.

ARA hosts Leadership at its Best ProgramThe program included the opportunity for participants to interact one on one with federal agencies and congressional senior staff. Ashley Nelsen, with EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, discussed the process the EPA uses in writing regulations. She also provided tools and best practice solutions on how, when and who to communicate with to potentially influence pending regulations.

Meetings followed on Capitol Hill beginning at the Rayburn Office Building to meet with staff of the House Small Business Committee followed by a visit with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s Chief of Staff Krysta Harden at USDA headquarters. The highlight for many of this year’s class was the opportunity to meet three members of Congress. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.), Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), and Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) joined this year’s class in a private room where the participants had an informal conversation with the members and discussed industry issues. These meetings provided a valuable inside perspective on the workings and process of communicating with Congress and committees.

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; providing educational and facility outreach opportunities to elected officials and agency representatives, representing the industry at hearings or other proceedings, and participating in industry related online discussion groups and blogs.