The Council of State Governments’ Henry Toll Fellowship Program has been developing leadership skills in state policymakers from across the country since 1986. For many, the lessons they learned during their fellowship helped them in their state government roles immediately. Those lessons still resonate today.
In their own words, CSG Toll Fellows share how the program has helped them lead their states.
True Leadership Knows No Limits
Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris Sr.
2014 CSG National Chair
“The most important thing I learned during the Henry Toll Fellowship experience is that true leadership knows no limits.
“There is no lack of demand for it; no geographic boundaries nor partisan peculiarity. We all have this in common: people and communities filled with promise limited only by the realities of life that all too often intervene.
“The Toll program provides a forum for leaders to discover the individual strengths which distinguish them among the strong; their weaknesses, which nurture humility in a less than humble arena; and the wisdom to find the way forward without depriving others of the sense that they pioneered the path without assistance.
“The Henry Toll Fellowship has a distinguished history of cultivating some of the nation’s top leaders and forging lasting relationships among a special few who serve without fear or favor.”
A Chance to See Other Points of View
Georgia Rep. Terry England
“I continue to draw on my Toll Fellows experience on a daily basis, from how to better interact with my fellow House members to how I respond to my constituents. Participating in the program opened my eyes to different points of view that I had never realized before. Not coming from a political background before being elected to the Georgia House, I brought with me a fairly narrow understanding of differing viewpoints. Not that it was bad to have those initial narrow viewpoints, but Toll Fellows helped me better understand and be able to work with those I did not agree with. At the beginning of the five days, I questioned the time I was taking out of my schedule and away from my family, but as I left Lexington with a new group of friends and folks I could turn to for help, I realized it was worth it.”
Interbranch Relationships are Important
Nebraska Sen. Beau McCoy
2014 CSG National Vice Chair
“It can be challenging to find time to attend conferences. The Henry Toll Fellowship Program is one that should not be missed.
“I received valuable insights that helped me grow as a leader, yet what I treasure most is the relationships I have made.
“You must be willing to work with others and build relationships to get anything done in the nation’s only nonpartisan unicameral. Building those relationships is just as important between the three branches of government.
“I was honored to have Kansas Chief Justice Lawton Nuss and Arizona Secretary of State Doug Ducey in my 2011 Toll Fellow class. Through our exchanges, I have a greater understanding of the difficulties the executive and judicial branches face.
“We need to take the time to understand each other, so we can offer the most efficient and effective state government possible for our citizens.
“Toll Fellows made me a better legislator.”
All Branches Serve the Public
Indiana Sen. Ed Charbonneau
“State government is a complex mix of three branches that, while separate, work best when there is a fundamental understanding of their interrelationship. The Toll Fellows program provided me an excellent opportunity to meet and interact with individuals from other branches of government, as well as from other states and territories. The program not only gave me a chance to examine issues of importance to other branches, but also their perceptions of the entire legislative branch. No matter what our calling, what our industry, we are all in the business of serving the public. Interaction with individuals who approach state government with a perspective different from mine has better equipped me to perform my role as one piece of a much larger puzzle.”
Humor and Laughter Build Bonds
Montana Rep. Liz Bangerter
“Being a Toll Fellow taught me the importance of recreation in building relationships. At Tolls, we partnered with strangers to save people from the fire swamp and tried our hands at being chefs. The activities were geared toward teamwork, but another product was the element of fun and learning to laugh with each other. We saw people out of their comfort zone and sometimes the only way to ‘win’ was to step back and enjoy the humor in our unusual predicaments and creative solutions.
“While fire swamps and cooking contests are sparse in the halls of the Montana state capitol building, I used these same ideas by initiating a bipartisan dinner and game night in my own home. Watching fellow representatives play charades and laughing at ourselves proved to be a powerful force for fostering relationships. Humor and laughter build bonds that cross even political parties and ideologies.“
Leadership Matters in All Endeavors
Arizona Treasurer Doug Ducey
“As a newly elected public servant who spent the previous 20-plus years in the private sector, the Toll Fellowship program reinforced my belief that leadership matters as much in state government as it does in building a successful business. There is no doubt that the experience helped me hone my communication and consensus building skills. Regardless of your area of expertise, political affiliation, tenure or future ambition, the people, ideas and perspectives that you are exposed to during the process inspire personal development and professional growth. I’ve been able to successfully apply those lessons to number of initiatives that I’ve spearheaded on behalf of Arizona taxpayers, and as a proud Toll Fellow alumnus, I am committed to further pursuing even greater opportunities in the future.”
Branches Separate, but Must Work Together
Idaho Rep. Maxine Bell
“I have so many memories of my opportunity to become a Toll Fellow. One lesson comes back so very often in my work in the Idaho legislature. It was a very cool and damp morning in Kentucky, we were in a wooded area doing different activities to promote team building. I can still remember so vividly wobbling on a rope a foot off the ground, trying to move to a tree while hanging on to very widely spaced hand holds. As the rope swayed dangerously, I still remember the hand reaching for me from the tree trunk and safety. He continued to reach out and call encouragement as I finally made it to the trunk. The helping hand was from one of our group who is a judge. While we embrace our separation of power in our state government, I have never forgotten that lesson. We can be separate with separate responsibilities, but need to seek ways to work together for the good of the people we represent.”
Discover the Bigger Picture
Kentucky Rep. Sannie Overly
“By bringing together a diverse group of leaders representing all three branches of government from all over the country, the Toll Fellows program challenged me to discover the bigger picture—to find commonality rather than differences, to put away preconceived notions, and to think creatively to find mutually agreeable solutions to problems.
“More specifically, I learned how to use my leadership style to bridge the gaps we sometimes construct based on notions about what it means to be Republican, Democrat, Southern, Northern, rural and urban. This program is a powerful demonstration of what we can accomplish and the problems we can solve when we check labels at the door and focus on working together for the common good.
“These insights guide me in my role as a legislator to realize the powerful results that come from engaging all interested stakeholders to craft thoughtful and enduring policy solutions to improve the lives of our citizens.”
Finding New Solutions
Tennessee Rep. Karen Camper
“I am so grateful for the skills I have been able to hone through the Toll Fellowship program. One of the most memorable exercises during our program was the group project with leaders from around the Southeast. The great thing about it was that instead of just offering the same old solutions to a common problem, poverty, we were challenged to think outside the box. That led us to put our region in a more global perspective by working on a plan to capitalize on the expansion of the Panama Canal in a way that would create sustainable jobs and grow our economy. Since then, I’ve taken the lessons I learned to Tennessee, passing a new law that created a Certificate of Employability for former convicts as a way of reducing crime and recidivism. I like to think that my experience as a Toll Fellow helped improve my skills to ensure passage of this important piece of legislation.”
Letting Go Leads to Success
Raúl E. Burciaga
Director, New Mexico Legislative Council Service
“I thought it would be a lot easier to let go and fall from a platform about 30 feet above ground. I’d always wanted to do a ropes course and I knew it was safe and secure. Yet, I sat on that platform for a seemingly long time before pushing off. The fear didn’t quite go away; it was the cheering support from my Toll Fellows colleagues that helped me let go. Similarly, when our regional team was deadlocked on what project to present, I let go of my idea and lent my support to another project. Intellectually, I know it’s important to let go of the lack of trust, possibility of a mistake, preference for one’s idea, need for perfection and—the biggest one—fear of failure. It’s not easy to let go, but when I have, it’s often brought success. If not, it’s brought opportunity.”
Be a Model of Leadership
Director, Budget Development, Planning and Administration | Delaware Office of Management
“My experience as a Toll Fellow provided numerous tools that contributed to my success this past year. The most important lesson I took back to Delaware was to be a model of leadership for state government. I have incorporated the leadership training I gathered at Toll Fellows into my management team meetings, and I follow those principles in all that I do. Each year, development of the state's budget involves communication, trusted relationships and fiscal problem solving. My leadership skills in each of these areas have been sharpened through participation in Toll Fellows. This was truly a unique opportunity to gain additional leadership resources and skills that I am applying to my career in public policy. This experience has provided a great return on investment for both me personally and the people I serve.”
Finding Enduring Relationships
Oregon Rep. Sara Gelser
“The Toll Fellowship is by far the most valuable legislative leadership program I’ve had the privilege to attend. I appreciated the ability to work with colleagues from other regions of the country and across party lines. The opportunity to hear from members of the executive and judicial branch about their unique leadership challenges changed my perspective of the other branches of government and increased my commitment to collaboration.
“While training on negotiation, public speaking and ethics were all valuable, I most appreciate the development of new relationships that have endured over the years. In the end, the Toll Fellowship provided essential skill development while also underscoring a fundamental truth of political leadership: It is all about relationships, flexibility and collaboration. If we strip away our party affiliation and leadership titles, we all come to the table with a desire to improve state government and the lives of the people we serve.”
Facilitate Positive Outcomes
Alaska Rep. Lance Pruitt
“The Toll Fellowship is an opportunity to interact with leaders of all three branches from across the United States with varying political ideologies. You would think that with a group this diverse, it would be chaos, but it is not that way at all. Through the Toll Fellowship program you can gain a better understanding of how to use your own strengths and weaknesses to encourage involvement and to facilitate positive outcomes in various situations. As the house majority leader, I have an opportunity to apply these tools frequently—including within my own caucus, between the two legislative bodies and when working with the administration.
“Public service includes working in the best interest of the public; it takes teamwork to be successful. The Toll Fellowship helps you work through the physical and mental challenges it takes to end up at an acceptable consensus. I am grateful for the opportunity to have participated in such a great program.”
Move Beyond Partisan Labels
Wisconsin Rep. Katrina Shankland
“The Henry Toll Fellowship challenged me as a legislator and a leader. The program taught me to move beyond preconceived notions of partisan labels. I learned firsthand how to develop personal relationships first, and develop policy upon those relationships second. Exchanging ideas and working on projects with members of all three branches of government from 48 states was an incredible opportunity that gave me more confidence and ability to build coalitions and work with members of both parties. As a freshman legislator in a highly polarized state like Wisconsin, these skills were particularly valuable to bring home with me. I now follow the careers of my fellow Toll Fellows with delight and hope to continue to develop the same kind of relationships I made at the Henry Toll Fellowship with my colleagues in the state legislature. Now if only I could get them all on a high ropes course!”
Leadership is about the People We Help
Idaho Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis 2009 CSG National Chair
“Dwight Eisenhower said, ‘You don’t lead by hitting people over the head—that’s assault, not leadership.’
“Today, some seek service as assault-style leaders. In contrast, the Toll Fellowship program taught me to remember leadership isn’t about me, but the folks we help, our caucus, our legislative body, our constituents. Each Toll tool—effective and long-term communication, team-building skills and enhanced self-awareness—centers Tolls on ethical leadership. As Idaho’s Senate majority leader for 12 years, I frequently draw on these Toll lessons learned.
“Some years later, as CSG’s national chairman, I attended a portion of another Toll Fellowship program. My mind drifted back to my own experience. I recalled my colleagues from all over. So far, one classmate became a governor, another to Congress, some to formal leadership titles, but all were better elected or appointed officials, in part, because of the Toll ethical-leadership experience.”
Comprehensive View for Whole State Solutions
Colorado Sen. Nancy Todd
“My experience of being a Toll Fellow was one of adventure, challenges and relationships! The opportunity to work with elected officials who serve their states in various leadership positions provided a more comprehensive view of the need to work for whole state solutions. As we learned from each other, we were able to draw from one another’s strengths, whether we were preparing a skit, a meal or taking the zip line challenge. The relationships that were formed created a bond of support and contact that can be enhanced at other levels of engagement in future gatherings. I have had an opportunity to become a stronger leader in the Colorado General Assembly as a result of this valuable experience because I learned more about who I am and how to develop my skills of collaboration and team building for the good of the whole!”
Work for the Common Good
Mississippi Sen. Will Longwitz
“Unlike other legislative conferences, the Toll Fellowship is not about public policy. Rather, the program is about shedding your limitations and working for the common good. The Toll program helps you see your own strengths and weaknesses. You then apply those insights to a practical set of facts. You learn that character, plus strength of will, can turn a given situation into a moral decision. This helps you serve people better.
“I have brought the Toll experience back home to my legislature. Toll helps me most when I am setting goals for myself. Instead of chasing trends, I can both see priorities better and tell how my strengths can lead to progress. With a stronger foundation for choosing worthy common goals, I can use my own abilities—along with the abilities of others—to reach those goals. The result is better relationships with colleagues and higher-quality results for my district and for Mississippi.”
Three Powerful Aspects of Leadership
Assistant Chief Clerk/Parliamentarian |
Office of the Chief Clerk, California State Assembly
“The Toll Fellowship provided exactly the kind of learning experience that I wanted in a leadership training program: skills development, networking opportunities and self-analysis. For me, the Tolls program stressed three powerful aspects of leadership—the power of positive thinking; the power of knowing yourself; and the power of education. We all work in groups, whether it is in an office setting, on a nonprofit board or in team sports. At the Toll training, we worked on group projects in an intense environment, helping me to understand how to adapt to group dynamics. I personally implemented what I learned at Tolls. I became more active in my community, including service on more nonprofit boards. I actively sought to provide others with credit-taking opportunities. Empowering others is rewarding, because you achieve the group goal while watching others thrive. Self-assessment is really about appreciating the strengths of others.”
Learn from Leaders Across the Nation
Wyoming House Speaker Pro Tempore Rosie Berger
“The CSG Toll experience gave me a national perspective from all three branches of government. In legislative leadership, one needs to know the cause and effect of enacted legislation. It is not often that legislators have the opportunity to discuss national issues with both the executive and judicial branches. Effective communication among all three branches of government is essential. Through the week I never thought about the political affiliation of any participant. More impressive were the collective skills of the group and how we strived to find common ground to develop better outcomes to complex issues. The mental and physical activities allowed for creative and challenging exercises to teach innovative techniques to build trusting relationships. As leaders of the 21st century, the Henry Toll Fellowship Program provides an environment to learn from leaders across the nation and gives you time to build on your personal strengths.”
Strategies for Solving Problems Consistent
Connecticut State Comptroller Kevin Lembo
“It has been 10 years since I was named a Toll Fellow by The Council of State Governments, but the relationships developed and the experiences gained during that single week continue to influence my public service today.
“At the time of my fellowship, in 2004, I served as Connecticut’s state health care advocate—and faced great challenges in helping residents navigate the complexities of our health care system.
“The privilege of being a Toll Fellow allowed me to spend time away with colleagues who shared my drive for solution-driven policy work. It allowed me to debate important issues—sometimes over the course of several days —in search of solutions that were more about common sense than party politics or sound bites.
“Even more important are the relationships that I forged with fellow Toll classmates, whom I still call on today for feedback on policy matters.
“The policy challenges that I continue to encounter today as Connecticut’s state comptroller are constantly evolving—but the approaches and strategies to solving these problems that I learned from my fellowship more than a decade ago are the same.”
Teamwork Essential to Accomplish Goals
Oregon Sen. Jackie Winters
“As a Toll Fellow in 2012, I knew I would work with legislators from other states—and I did—and we each shared our stories and challenges. What I had not envisioned, however, was the power and richness of the overall Toll Fellow team-building process when nonlegislators—judges and executives—joined with us. Within those new teams, we worked as partners, developing and practicing interdisciplinary strategies in ways that legislators alone can seldom practice.
“When Oregon’s 2014 legislative short session convened, I was assigned as one of four co-chairs to develop, present and carry a critical public safety package that involved judges, law enforcement and corrections executives, and would impact multiple programs. Teamwork, collaboration and shared solutions were essential to accomplish the goals. My Toll Fellows experience provided me with the confidence, the knowledge and the special skills that helped to ensure a successful outcome for our efforts.”
Communication is Crucial at all levels
Chief of Staff, Delaware House Majority Caucus
“The Toll Fellows program offered me the opportunity to reflect on how I had been approaching my job as the chief of staff for the House Democratic Caucus, and through this reflection I realized that I needed to do a much better job of communicating at all levels. So when I returned to the office, I immediately reached out to the governor’s chief of staff and the chief of staff in the state Senate to schedule a meeting to discuss the upcoming legislative session. The first meeting went so well that we now meet regularly to review current legislative issues, discuss strategy, as well as share information about how we each have handled challenging situations with our jobs. I strongly believe that these meetings have been very helpful during a very busy legislative session.”
Media Training still Helps today
Nevada Sen. Kelvin Atkinson
"By far, this was the most useful training I have ever attended as a state legislator. The experience and friendships I gained from attending the Toll Fellows program are invaluable. The media training blew my mind and I am still surprised at how much it helps me today."