What the CSG Toll Fellowship can do for You

Talk to state leaders who have been through The Council of State Governments’ Henry Toll Fellowship Program and one thing becomes clear: They took something away from the weeklong program that immediately help them be a better public servant.

The 2014 Toll Fellowship Program, set for Sept. 5-10 in Lexington, Ky., likely will have that same effect on the 48 leaders who will be selected from CSG’s four regions. The deadline for materials submission—for those who have submitted an online application by May 2—has been extended to May 21.

Here’s what recent graduates had to say about how the program helped them better serve their constituents.


Alyson Richards, director of special projects and intergovernmental affairs for Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin

Richards, a 2013 CSG Toll Fellow, said she is at the beginning of her leadership journey; participating in the CSG Toll Fellows program helped her along that road. One lesson she learned in the leadership program was the need to start on common ground.

She also saw the necessity to create a balance between empathy and strength.

“If you can strike that balance,” she said, “you can really show that you’re able to take the ball and move it so people have that trust in you.”

She also learned the importance of operating in diagnostic mode—meaning constantly assessing progress and making changes as needed. She has adopted the diagnostic mode as her mode of operation.

“You can lose sight of overall goal and outcomes if you’re too focused on the plan that you created at the beginning,” she said.


Mississippi Sen. Will Longwitz

Longwitz, a 2013 CSG Toll Fellow, believes the qualities of a good leader come from within. The Toll Fellowship program helped reinforce that fact.

“That weeklong boot camp helped me understand that everything I need to be a successful leader and legislator, I already have,” he said.

Those attributes, he said, are “confidence and diligence and an absolute disregard for the attacks of your detractors.”


Cheri Beasley, associate justice, North Carolina Supreme Court

Beasley, a 2012 CSG Toll Fellow, was appointed to the bench of North Carolina’s highest court shortly after her participation in the leadership program. While she has no agenda as she enters this new phase of her judicial career, Beasley will take all she’s learned to the bench of North Carolina’s highest court. That includes her experience with the CSG Toll Fellows program.

“The fellowship really caused me to be introspective about who I am as a person and as a leader and to think about ways in which I can improve myself in both ways,” she said.

Because the program includes officials from all three branches of state government, Beasley said she gained new perspectives into the legislative and executive branches.

“That’s really, in addition to the introspection, the whole point—being able to see the ways that we can work together and complement each other in furthering the goal of service to the people of our respective states,” she said. “That has already begun to help me do my job in a better way.”


Mildred Edwards, executive director, Kansas African-American Affairs Commission

Edwards, a 2012 CSG Toll Fellow, has long been a fan of CSG and said the Toll Fellows experience gave her more insights into what the organization offers state policymakers. She, too, likes the interbranch nature of the program, saying it helped her understand the interconnectedness of the three branches of state government.

“While I understand the value of relationships, I don’t know that I spend a great deal of time working on them,” she said. The Toll Fellowship showed her she needed to do a better job of building relationships across the branches in her home state.

 “If I were able to do that that, I would be a better asset to my commission,” she said. “Often, we communicate with the judicial branch or legislative branch only when we need something from them. That relationship building should be deliberate because we should all be in that together.”

“CSG really made me think about my role in that and what I should be doing to better those relationships over time.”


Nevada Assemblyman Jason Frierson

Friereson’s experience in the 2012 CSG Toll Fellows program taught him that a lot of representatives around the country face the same challenges he and his colleagues in the Nevada legislature face.

“I think lots of times, it’s easy to feel like you’re by yourself,” he said. “For me, knowing that other people are going through the same thing is encouraging. Knowing you have other people to lean on if you needed to and draw from a similar experience has been one of the most beneficial things for me.”

Frierson has this advice on being a good leader: “Being true to yourself is the first thing I would tell folks.”