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Voices of the Fellowship: Lessons from WLA

Tags: Fellowship


In early December, recently-elected state legislators from thirteen western states met at El Pomar’s Penrose House for the annual Western Legislative Academy (WLA) conference. The three and a half-day training program helps legislators refine their skills and share ideas to enhance their performance within their respective state governments. Four El Pomar Fellows joined the training program as both observers and participants.

Davis Tutt

This week, I had the unique opportunity of joining 44 state senators and representatives from all around the western United States to learn about leadership, communications, and governing. While the other El Pomar Fellows and I were originally there to make observations about the speakers and compile evaluation forms, we were encouraged to become full participants with all the legislators in attendance. As an individual who aspires to enter the political realm sometime in the future, Western Legislative Academy was an incredibly useful tool to learn from top notch speakers and converse with newly elected state officials full of innovative policy ideas. When looking back, it is hard to pick a favorite speaker as they all are nationally and internationally known in their fields. The individual who most resonated with me, however, was Bill Graham, CEO of Graham Corporate Communications. Graham, a former TV producer, now owns a consulting firm specializing in personal communication with constituents, colleagues, and the media. Graham’s humor and engagement with the audience demonstrated how the delivery of information directly affects a person’s opinion of you and your message. As a Fellow, I spend a great deal of my time speaking to medium to large groups, where I must tactfully get across many points in a clear and concise manner. Graham’s discussion was highly relevant as it taught many skills that will help me deliver a positive, simple, and memorable message while defusing hostility and avoiding unnecessary conflict! Overall, WLA was an incredible experience and I am honored to have been able to work with the next generation of western leaders.




Samantha Barlow

As this was my second time observing and participating in the Western Legislative Academy, I felt fortunate once again to spend the week with 44 lawmakers, the Council of State Governments-West staff, and the Fellow team. The week featured nine incredible speakers, and I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to sit in on each session. Did you know…

  • In states with bipartisan seat mates (on the floor), you see a five percent increase in cross-over voting along traditionally party line issues.
  • A UCLA study revealed 55% of your likeability is determined by how you appear, 38% is by how you sound, and only 8% is by your actual words.
  • One study had people in a mall look at photos of two local candidates for a tenth of a second each, and then asked which person they liked better. It determined election outcomes with 85% accuracy.







VJ Brown

Western Legislative Academy was an amazing opportunity that challenged my perspective about legislatures and the people who work for them. Surprisingly enough, the sessions primarily focused on relationship building and how legislators can effectively engage with constituencies and colleagues. Throughout the sessions, relating to people – more over people with great influence – became a welcomed opportunity rather than a political game or task. I was impressed with everyone’s ability to engage in dialogue as people, even when discussing politics. In addition, I was grateful that many of the sessions gave me skills that I could apply to my life, both professional and personal. Pam Vaccaro’s session on priority management provided the most concrete skills for me. She noted that time management is a feeble task to try to master, because time itself cannot be controlled or managed. Focus management, however, contributes to more efficient and productive uses of energy. In addition, she gave some important tips on networking and how to be intentional about humanizing people through learning their names. Her key is the simple tool of the “3 Q’s.” She modeled how asking a person three questions about their lives before speaking about oneself creates much more meaningful and engaging dialogue. I can’t wait for the opportunity to use this at a future event!





Sam Albert

The Western Legislative Academy conference was a unique and exceptional learning experience. From presentations about ethics and integrity to a fabulous historical lesson, every presentation was entertaining and thought-provoking. While the lessons taught were aimed at aiding legislators, I firmly believe everything we learned is applicable to all work environments. I left with many tools and ideas, and I look forward to wielding them in the Fellowship and beyond.