By Therese Murray, Massachusetts Senate President

As president of the Massachusetts Senate, I have encountered—and still encounter—many challenges. Being a leader is never without struggle, but it can be especially difficult when you are also a woman.

When Lance Pruitt decided to run for the Alaska House of Representatives, he had one simple objective: “It really was more of a focus on the kids,” he said, “my kids and the future.”

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 Longwitz was sitting in his office in Washington, D.C., when Hurricane Katrina hit his home state of Mississippi in 2005.
Days passed and he hadn’t heard from his family and friends....
Michigan Rep. Phil Cavanagh won’t say that public service is in his blood—even though he comes from a long line of public servants, including his father, who served as mayor of Detroit from 1962 to 1970....
Pennsylvania Rep. Pam DeLissio believes many people involved in politics today see it primarily as a sport.
That leaves a lot of people out of the equation, she said....

by Brian D. Shaw, President of the George C. Marshall Foundation

Public officials at all levels need a type of courage that’s not often taught. They are expected to develop a bold vision for strategic change and to produce results that address the demands and expectations of multiple, often conflicting constituencies. One exemplar of the courage to lead is George C. Marshall. In a long, productive career of public service, Marshall solved some of the biggest, most complicated problems the world had seen.

South Dakota Revenue Secretary Andy Gerlach, a 2013 CSG Henry Toll Fellow, has seen his experience in government help him other arenas—such as when he was deployed to Afghanistan with the National Guard. “You can take a lot of lessons in government—working with different agencies, different areas of government, state, local and federal, and the different branches, and try to come together with a common approach,” he said.

Nevada Assemblyman Jason Frierson has learned a few lessons in leadership as he’s represented people, from his grade school classmates to the constituents in his Las Vegas-area district. “Sometimes, the best leader is one who lets everybody get credit,” he said. “It’s less about credit and more about results.”

Noted author and historian David McCullough said Missouri-born president Harry S. Truman exhibited many traits that helped make him a great leader.

Speaking at Friday’s luncheon, McCullough said Truman’s sister Mary Jane sent him letters in 1945, shortly after he became president, complaining about how difficult it was for her and their mother to get ready to visit him at the White House.