Professionals from across the state got to learn from local leaders when this year’s Leadership Montana class came to town last week. Leadership Montana is a program that aims to develop individuals’ leadership skills as they travel to communities across the state, learning from local leaders and officials about the problems they face and how they have addressed them.
Program participants travel to seven communities over a period of several months. This is the first time the program has been in Glendive during its 20-year history.
According to Leadership Montana president and CEO Chantel Schieffer, the locations are often influenced by program alumni.
Glendive Public Schools Superintendent Stephen Schreibeis joined the program last year, and was the first individual from Glendive to participate in the program. Schieffer said Schreibeis recommended Glendive as a stop for the program.
“As it turns out, most of the people in the program this year have been to Eastern Montana, and that’s no surprise. We’re starting to see more people traveling east, we’re starting to see that shift,” she said.
This year is also unique, she noted, in that the class had to be split into two groups as there were more participants than usual.
“It’s unique for us to have two cohorts but there are just so many people in this year’s class. We noticed that the demand became particularly high during the COVID years, people just became more interested in the program,” Schieffer said.
The first group came to town on Monday, April 4 and the next on Friday, April 8. Each group spent a day in the community hearing from local leaders and exploring local businesses. They then went on to Sidney.
Based on some of the responses from the event, the time spent in Glendive appears to have gone well, as program participants say they learned quite a lot and were happy to get some insight into the current goings-on of Eastern Montana.
Missoula County Auditor David Wall was among the group that visited the area on Friday. He said that from his perspective, the visit was very educational and enjoyable as he discovered there’s more to the community than most people realize at first glance.
“I mainly learned that a lot of people see Glendive as a stop-over town, a place to gas up or sleep for the night before moving on, but there is so much more that it has to offer,” he said.
Laura Clark, president of Opportunity Bank of Montana, said she had much the same experience. Having traveled from Helena to be part of the Monday group, discovering the many assets Glendive has was something she enjoyed as well.
“I was one of four participants of Leadership Montana who carpooled from Helena to Glendive on Sunday to be ready to engage in the community Monday morning. It is a long drive, but so worth it. Several participants toured the impressive wastewater treatment plant Monday morning. The tour guide was the design engineer from Great West Engineering and a participant in our class. She was very proud of the project as I’m sure the community of Glendive is as well. I found the tour and the facility quite interesting,” Clark said.
Particularly though, both Wall and Clark pointed to the local leaders panels as a high point of their respective visits. The Monday group heard from a panel consisting of Schreibeis, Chamber of Commerce Director Terra Burman, Ranger-Review Publisher Chad Knudson, Dawson County Commissioner Dennis Zander and Montana Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman Paul Hopfauf. The Friday group met with a panel consisting of Dawson Community College Interim President Kathleen O’Leary, Glendive Schools Facilities Director Rhett Coon, Glendive Medical Center Marketing and Foundation Director Jaime Shanks and Beau Gibbs, engineer for WBI Energy.
During each session, attendees heard about not only the assets Glendive has, but also the challenges the community faces and how those problems have been addressed. As each member of both panels are also members of other various boards and organizations in the community, they were able to provide a thorough picture of many aspects of the community.
“The Glendive community panel, which is something we have experienced in each community we have visited, was one of the best we have had, in my opinion,” Clark said. “The panels discuss issues facing the community and included both successes and challenges. The Glendive panel was engaging and it was apparent each loved the community they lived in, and were open to questions and perspectives from the audience… They seemed to really work together with the same goal of sustaining and improving Glendive and Dawson County.”
Wall added that his time in Glendive provided a good example of how visiting a new community can really help develop and understanding of issues that affect the entire state. He added that he feels Leadership Montana should make a point of visiting new communities more often in the future, including reservation communities.
On a personal note, Wall said the trip to other communities taught him to be more curious, especially when discussing topics where he and another person don’t agree. He learned to inquire about issues of disagreement and explore those differences in opinion to come to a better understanding.
“Every community has their differences, Glendive is very different from Missoula. We need to learn more about other parts of the state and what they have to offer. Towns like Glendive and Eastern Montana have goods and services we need here in Missoula and I don’t think a lot of people realize that,” Wall said.