The Agricultural Retailers Association’s Leadership at Its Best Program, sponsored by Syngenta, is designed for emerging branch, marketing and sales managers to improve communication skills with legislators and agency personnel at all levels of government, both federal and state.
The training segments are designed to assist attendees with communicating the agricultural retail industry’s perspective on policy issues to agency leaders and government officials and how to follow up on those meetings and conversations. This training course is designed to hone skills attendees already have and to provide them with confidence in using those skills in fast paced public forums.
Candidates who complete this program will be able to interact with government officials and agencies on all levels. Graduates will be better able to understand and interpret government actions, but also have the tools and contacts to participate in the process. Graduates may be called upon by ARA to represent the industry at hearings or other proceedings.
This intense three-day program begins with communications training geared toward sharpening oral and written communication skills.
Each participant completes 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 is reinforced on the final day with energized public speaking. This session provides participant’s 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 is 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 & Counsel, offered a comprehensive overview of how ARA discovers and responds to policy issues. Participants are versed on the process of lobbying Congress and a seasoned political fundraiser guest discussed the importance and purpose of Political Action Committees.
Other program highlights include business etiquette and Congressional Insight Training. Participants attend an etiquette lunch where they practice first-hand tasks such as name badge placement, proper utensil use and business introductions.
During Congressional Insight Training, participants gain a perspective of what it is like to be a freshman in United States House of Representatives. Players assume the two-year role of a freshman member of Congress and are presented with various decisions. A computer evaluates player choices and presents the results and consequences of the decisions each player makes.
The final day of the program concludes with the opportunity for participants to interact one-on-one with federal agencies and congressional senior staff.
During the inaugural Leadership at its Best in 2012, 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 United Department of Agriculture’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 United States 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 Staff. These meeting provided a valuable inside perspective on the workings and process of communicating with Congress and Committees.
At the conclusion of the program, participants have 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 an 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 represent the industry at hearings or other proceedings.