Category Archives: Leadership

The Next Chapter

Alas, my time here is ending as a resident. Much sooner than I could have imagined. Two plus years ago, I took a shot on a challenge to run the Chamber of Commerce in the fastest growing city in the U.S. And likewise, the Chamber’s Board and the business community took a chance on me, a born and raised cheesehead. This NoDak Badger learned a fewNoDakBadger things and take with me lasting friendships and experiences. I try to explain to others “you don’t know Williston, until you’ve lived in Williston.”  So as I pack my fly rods and guitar and move to Bismarck next week, here’s my last take as a Willistonian.

  1. I learned that North Dakota IS a political Grand Canyon of the Plains, and that East v West isn’t just a name for the NBA All-Star game. It’s hard to ignore that Grand Forks, Fargo and Bismarck get the vast majority of the state and nation’s attention, including federal program funding.It will be up to the leadership of the state AND of the western political subdivisions to continue to build a bridge across that canyon. The way it shapes up now, not even Evel Knievel could jump that thing.
  2. I learned that an economy that relies heavily on one commodity (ag, energy) is going to have to learn to ride the waves. The tsunami of people and activity that crashed on the shores of the Little Muddy a few years ago has subsided. Only the strongest remain stout and tall as the wave recedes back into the hills. And those that remain are even stronger still when the next wave comes (and it will).
  3. I learned that in a state of 730,000 people, one group or community or strong voice CAN affect the direction of policy and sentiment.
  4. I learned that some of what the national media portrays of Williston is true and self inflicted. Some of what has been said about the area is only to sell headlines and sensationalize. ABC’s Blood and Oil, the short-lived TV series is among the worst offenses in recent memory.If you want the picture to look different or the story to sound different, you must take control of the message.

I suppose this is also the space where  I lay out the “what Williston needs” list. Rather than going there, because everyone thinks Williston needs something different, let’s use four key community qualitative metrics as a measuring stick. You be the judge on how Williston’s doing in each of these areas.

I’m referencing a presentation I heard in Sioux Falls last week from Mac Holladay, a community image guru and keynote speaker for the event. Mac says you need to identify four things for a community to be successfully competitive in today’s battle to attract and retain America’s best workforce talent.  America’s got talent, but definitely not enough for every community. Read this section with the idea of attracting city administrator candidates to Williston (for instance).

A. Education & Workforce Sustainability. What sort of education and workforce to you want in the community? Do you understand the generational differences and embrace them when it comes to education and workforce needs? What innovative ways can the community help fill that workforce shortage? How much emphasis will be placed on those issues to compete with the Minots, the Bismarcks, Grand Forks’ and Fargos?

B. Place. The ‘place’ is inseparable from your workforce attractiveness. Richard Florida, an American urban studies theorist said:

“Economic development today, more than ever before, is about talent management. Regions that are successful in economic development are creating and maintaining a community that is attractive for creative workers.”

There are three’qualitative’ community questions:

  1. Can people easily access the place using a variety of transportation options?
  2. Does the community make a good first impression? Do you feel safe? Is it free of litter? Does it ‘feel’ inviting?
  3. How many different types of activities are occurring? Do people use the community space, or does it sit empty? Are there choices of things to do?

C. Diversity. Embracing diversity to ensure economic growth and stability over the long term. Many studies point to the statistics that half of all children in America today, under the age of 5, are non-white. The term diversity also applies to religious, lifestyle, business, culture, etc, and not just skin color.

D. Regionalism. This concept is the direct opposite to ‘silo-ism’ or taking care of ourselves. Fewer resources mean either a cutthroat mentality, whereby only the large and political survive; or it means banding together for the longer, prosperous road ahead. Think beyond the city limits, and beyond the next budget cycle.

The potential for Williston to be the true ‘western star’ of North Dakota is real. The biggest challenge for the city is to proactively define what it will be; five, ten or twenty years from now, and not let the outside critics and media define the image.

Embracing change is difficult. Those companies and leaders who understand the need to adapt to changing economic conditions will survive. Those that fight change may win once in a while, but in the long run, will be left behind. In the end, it’s not about winning. It’s about doing what is right.

My parting thoughts are a simple and humble thank you. To the Chamber Board for their support the past two plus years and the trust they had in my guiding the Chamber ship through these wild waters. To the staff, without whom nothing would have been possible. To the community leadership for supporting the businesses in Williston as they improve the quality of life here for everyone and spur economic growth; both in and out of the oil and gas industry.

Finally, to the Williston community: Don’t lament the loss of another drilling rig. Embrace what you do have already – talented, caring people who when they work together, can accomplish great things.

Besides, I’m not really leaving. Just moving.

Scott Signature-small.jpeg


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Make a real difference; run for office

“Honey, you should run for the school board and fix that mess!”

“Martha, instead of griping about the issues, why not just run for office yourself?”

“Hey, Joe, some of th’ guys were talkin’ and think you’d make a good candidate for the legislature.”

As a student senator in college, we’d sit in the student union over an Old Style (maybe more than one) and figure out which city council member or county board member was going to retire. Then we’d crank up the campaign machine to get one of our better looking student friends elected. Sometimes it worked. That was pre-social media and pre-internet, and pre-stone age. Campaign stone-flyers, the original tablets, were dragged from cave to cave via woolly mammoth. Lol.

Recently, the Williston Herald ran a story on the offices up for grabs this year. (In the digital world, they call that ‘click bait). The basic process of running for local office (town, school district, city, park board, county) is fairly straight forward. Get the proper number of signatures for the proper office, and get on the ballot. And it’s free. That’s kind of cool, actually. I’ve known 18 year old mayors, 22 year old state legislators, and 30 year old congressmen. There aren’t too many barriers to getting on the ballot, save for a felony maybe.

Incorporating your true political sagacity, there are practicalities you should consider, like, you know, life. Can you devote enough time to do what is required to properly represent your interests or district? Are there issues you are more interested in than others? Is there an open seat, or how many votes or dollars will it take to win?

Although it might be fun; generating tweets, comments, shares and likes via social media doesn’t really count as making a difference.

For what it’s worth, there’s really only one consideration that outweighs all the others:

Do you want to make a real difference?


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Polite police and business playoffs

I was officially welcomed to Williston recently; tagged by a delivery driver who was ‘not focused’ on both directions of traffic. Fergus was nicked up a bit, but he is fine. Fergus, by the way is the name of my 2013 Honda CRV. The naming of Fergus is another post.

I promptly called the Williston Police Department (it was about 9 pm on a Friday) and within about 4 minutes, we were

greeted by a strapping young patrol officer with creases in his uniform. He could have been a veteran officer in his early 20s, or a brand new addition to the force – it was hard to tell. I knew it was the Police Department by the license plate on the car that said “POLICE.” It makes it easier for everyone I guess. The process of giving statements and information was painless and delicious as I downed a Culver’s banana and strawberry sundae. And as anyone driving by would notice: things were less stressful since: a) we weren’t blocking Hwy 2/85 at 5pm; b) no one was injured; and c) everyone kept their heads. The citation ‘failure to yield’ went to the other driver, but it was the process itself that I appreciated.

We are quick to tweet a criticism, but slow to reach out a hand and say thanks. Thanks Williston Police Department for what you do for our City.

Playoff Mentality
The NBA and NHL are in the midst of buzzer beater three pointers and goal robbing, leather-flashing glove saves this month – the playoffs. I am a hockey guy by choice, and I was wondering something the other day as the Chicago Blackhawks were taking care of business over the Minnesota Wild.

You want to talk about playoffs?

You want to talk about playoffs?

What if you ran your business with a playoff mentality and what would it look like? Could you do it for seven days? Would you produce results or just exhaustion? Could you win four of seven days? What would that feel like or look like?

I think many people plan their weeks or work days like it’s game 76 of a 162 game regular season. Imagine if you came to work on Monday and found a note that said you only have seven days of work left, after which you will either be sent home (fired) or you get to stay and work another week. How would you react? What would you do?

The playoff season for professional sports is not just another game, despite what coaches and players tell the media. They require more focus, a better game plan, and precise execution of that plan by the entire team. Do you have cycles in your business life that require these traits? Has your supervisor said “this is it people; we either make this work, or we make some tough decisions.” It may not get that desperate, but it’s the mentality of that last game, that last quarter, that last minute that cause us to focus and execute.

If you are the leader, what do your actions say about your business season? Do you treat it like a pre-season, or an exhibition game where if you make a mistake it’s brushed off? When you are in a slow period, do you as the ‘captain’ of your team act like it’s just another inning (another day at work)?

Image result for stanley cup

When you are the captain, and it comes together, this can happen. In business and in life.

And when is it time for you as the captain of your team, to act like it’s THE last game, THE last half of an inning, or the final minute of the period when the opposing goalie has been pulled?

Our Chamber is entering game five of a best of seven series which is tied at two games each. The next 60 days until Rockin’ Ribfest is our playoff season. We’re focused, we have the right teammates in place. Now we must execute.

Whether you are a team of one or one hundred, focusing for short periods of time with a playoff mindset will make a difference in your bottom line.


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Leadership Williston – Chamber Cornerstone Program nears two decades of education, leadership and friendship

This Wednesday (4/22) the Chamber’s Leadership Williston program will hold its project presentations and graduation lunch. Thirteen local leadersLeadership Logo will receive the LW lapel pin, as it has been the tradition for almost 20 years. The list of names and projects is impressive. Everything from youth sports clinics, to health care awareness campaigns to Kid’s Marketplace (coming up next week, btw), to a dog park. Those are lasting legacies these people have left on Williston over the years.

But to me, what’s more impressive is the list of projects which were NOT completed. Some of the most incredible Leadership Williston projects were the ones that just fell short, or the owners of the projects moved, or for some reason ideas that didn’t quite made it to the finish line.What if we went back to that list and added a little oomph to a great idea from 1996, 2001, or last year?

It sounds a little off kilter to go back and finish something that someone else didn’t think it was a priority to complete at the time, or didn’t have the resources (time, talent, or treasure). So why not today? I get the comment quite often from business owners that they would like to ‘be involved’ more in Williston. Of course, I start ticking off the plenitude of ideas, programs, organizations, groups and events that could entertain one’s time and energies. It pains me to realize that some of these worthy groups and events are begging for volunteers and leaders (my own included!).

Maybe we could revisit some of these great Leadership Williston ideas, projects and programs and make them available to people who “want to get involved” and give them a sense of pride, ownership and community. I know, it’s a stretch. But I’ve grown weary of hearing that there is nothing to do in Williston. There’s plenty to do. You just have to raise your hand once in a while. Like our 13 LW graduates did last October.

LW2015 Graduation Pins

This year’s class will carve out its own legacies. Some will be in digital form, some in lasting memories, others in programs that will impact lives for just a fleeting moment. For many, it will be a professional network and friendship that will bond them together in Williston and beyond.

To the nearly 150 LW Alumni, you will welcome 13 more on Wednesday who have brought their own talents and energies to our town. From the business community’s standpoint, we need more leaders and do-ers in Williston who will raise their hand up and not out. The Chamber’s LW program has lasted the test of two decades. So have some of their programs and projects.

Is it your turn?

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New program, new business leaders: Lemonade Day first in North Dakota

My last post expounded on the challenges of being ‘the Chamber’ and sometimes having to say no to a great idea or program. On the flipside, sometimes after all the pros and cons of an idea are vetted by staff and committees and boards; the answer is why not?

John Chin, a business real estate guru and native Floridian, approached me last summer with such a program. In my efforts to revamp, reorganize and reinvigorate the Williston Chamber the past 12 months, I am very hesitant about taking on new programs that sound good, but drain resources, time and funds without providing a member or community benefit. (Hint: read my last post!)

Businesses and business leaders (whom the chamber represents) have an obligation not only to add to the local economy (be profitable) but also to be role models and mentors to the future business leaders – our youth. The Chamber’s Leadership & Education Committee looked at Lemonade Day as a new program to reach our young people in Williston. In the end, we decided to give Lemonade Day a chance in Williston for 2015.

Williston will be the first city in North Dakota to host the program, aimed at young entrepreneurs to learn how to plan, design, build and execute a business plan – a lemonade stand!

Lemonade Day is a strategic learning process that walks youth from a dream to a business plan, while teaching them the same principles required to start any big company. Inspiring kids to work hard and make a profit, they are also taught to spend some, save some and share some by giving back to their community. Launched in Houston, Texas in 2007, Lemonade Day has grown from 2,700 kids in one city to more than 200,000 kids in cities all across the country.

My skepticism soon turned to enthusiasm, not because I love a fresh glass of lemonade, or that youth today need business role models closer to home. The real reason why Lemonade Day fits our Chamber mission is because of several things:

  1. A successful template is already employed elsewhere;
  2. It directly ties our businesses, business leaders, and the spirit of entrepreneurship to Williston’s youth;
  3. Lemonade Day brings a fresh approach to a program (youth entrepreneurship) to a city filled with people from all over the country; and
  4. It’s a community wide program with very few boundaries thus reaching a wider audience with a Chamber program than just current membership.

With volunteer leaders ranging from former mayor Ward Koeser, to John Chin and Drew Baker, to committee leaders Serena Christianson and Christina O’Neill taking the lead, to our Chamber staff; this made perfect sense as a Chamber program this year.

Sponsorships helped offset the license fee and materials. LD materials bags will be distributed next Monday (4/20) and Tuesday (4/21) at the

Lemonade Day kits with lessons and ideas

Lemonade Day kits with lessons and ideas

Chamber office. The kits are free for each student (thanks to the sponsors) and contain the lessons and worksheets to start your own business with a friend or neighbor. Adults play the role of “mentor” to the young enterprising business leaders, and help them with the lessons.

Then on June 14, 2015, all of the lemonade stands are posted around town in a celebration of youth leadership and fun! Local businesses are encouraged to host to a lemonade stand which again, ties our community leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. I am so very excited for the first ever Lemonade Day in North Dakota this coming June. If you need a couple of tips for your lemonade day business venture, take a listen to these kids, who sound like they just might have the makings of a great business owner.

We unveiled the program at the January 22 Chamber banquet thanks to two enterprising youth (sons of my staff!). The program has received some nice attention lately including a front page story in the Williston Herald, a nice spot on the KXMD noon show, and will be visible at this Saturday’s Kid’s Day Out at the Raymond Center, and Marketplace for Kids on April 28 at Williston State College.

Do you want to make a difference? Mentor a young entrepreneur through the Williston Area Chamber of Commerce’s Lemonade Day 2015.

Be involved. Make a difference.


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Toughest part of this job

Image result for leadership thinking

I’ve been a nonprofit executive for 14 years now, first as a government relations director for a state-wide trade association (electric industry), now as the head of our Chamber of Commerce. I am forever frustrated with one function of this position.

Without question the executive action that causes me the most grief is when we have to say “no.” But what leads a nonprofit executive to say no might surprise you. (Well of course it’s lack of staff, time and money).

It’s easy to say no to ideas which cannot be afforded due to investment of time and resources.

  • “We really don’t have enough staff to tackle that project”
  • “We didn’t budget for that piece of equipment this year”
  • “I doubt we could accomplish that event given the time allotted”

Those “no’s” are easy. The hardest “no’s” to administer are related to projects, ideas, and events that fall outside your organization’s mission, but still have merit. I worked in state government for a time, and it just pained me to hear a fellow worker say, “It’s not my job.” Bureaucratic babble. Human beings, people, can make individual split decisions and choices to help or hinder, to fix or forget.

In the organizational world however, saying yes to things outside your direct mission can be costly. We call that organizational mission creep.

The danger of organizational creep is it will sneak up like a stealth bomber. Innocent ideas, great projects, and awesome events sound great in a meeting or at the bar. But OMC (Organizational Mission Creep) can cause good staff to leave, budgets to burst and help executives to be “transitioned” (fired). The company may look really busy, but if what you’re doing doesn’t fall into your mission, does that make it right? It is the CEO’s job to keep the main thing, the main thing.

Here’s a good article from looking at key ways to avoid mission creep. I have to keep reminding myself, my staffImage result for organizational mission and our volunteer leaders that just because it sounds great or it worked last time, doesn’t mean it’s part of our core mission. Frances Hesselbein, head of the Girl Scouts during its major growth period asks the best question, one that I ask daily.

If we do this, will it further the mission?

Good ideas, great projects, exciting new ventures, and important community contributions can get left in file folders and on Evernote screens because the idea may not fall into direct mission of your organization. For a growing Chamber in the fastest growing City in the US, that is gut-wrenching.

However, saying no to something that may cause mission creep, as tough as it is, might be the most important decision you make today.

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