April 4, 2012

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Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman
Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman answers a question from a student on the topic of leadership during a presentation at Pfendler Hall. (Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Tom Campbell)

Skillman urges students to become leaders

By Keith Robinson

Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman offered sage advice to Purdue College of Agriculture students Tuesday (April 3) when she spoke as this semester’s Learning from Leaders guest.

The first woman elected as Indiana’s lieutenant governor culled advice from her many years in leadership in county government, in the state Senate and as the No. 2 executive in state government.

Becky Skillman at Purdue
Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Tom Campbell

Skillman told the Pfendler Hall audience, which included faculty and staff, that she first decided to run for elected office in her native Lawrence County at the age of 25 after she remembered encouraging words from her grandfather when she was of high school age that “leadership comes in all shapes and sizes.” She served 16 years in county office, including as president of the Association of Indiana Counties.

Skillman, a Republican, then went on to serve for 16 years in the state Senate, where she was the first woman elected to Senate majority leadership.

She said her leadership faced a serious test when she opposed a gambling initiative in an economically distressed county in her home district. Although she had long opposed the idea of using gambling revenues to drive economic development, she knew that most people in the county favored it.

“But I wasn’t going to be a hypocrite,” she said. She stood opposed to it.

To her surprise, she won that county’s vote in the next election.

“I can only chalk that up to the fact that I was honest,” she said. “I justified my position and I explained to them (voters) what I had attempted to do — aside from (supporting) gambling — to create more jobs and put people to work in that area.

“So there’s one lesson: Know yourself and adhere to your own value system, and you’ll be just fine.”

Skillman had special words of advice for young women, many of whom expressed reluctance to run for the state Senate at her urging early in her career. Their typical response, she said, was, “Oh, I’m not qualified for that.”

“It is a matter of confidence,” she said.

Skillman has greater expectations for young women today because more of them are in leadership positions now.

“To the young women here, I would say, please, take advantage of all of the opportunities that are offered to you,” she said.

Other leadership tips Skillman offered:

• “Leadership is about action, not about a position. I’m sure we all know people who are in leadership positions, but they are not good leaders. On the other hand, I think we know people who are not in leadership positions, and yet they are great leaders. The people who succeed are the ones who are willing to do the work.”

• “Aim higher and maximize your potential. ‘Aim higher’ has become a trademark, or hallmark, for our administration. It’s a motivation for all of us — all of us men and women in leadership throughout state government.”

• “Give back to others. There are many people who believe what makes them happy is having someone else to do something for them, when in reality it’s the opposite that’s true. Service leadership is perhaps leadership in its truest form.”

• “Lead by inspiration. Leadership can come from anywhere. You don’t have to be a governor. You don’t have to be a CEO. We can all be leaders by supporting the people around us and by encouraging them to dream more, to learn more and to become more.”

• “Give yourself a reserve of time and energy. You do give of yourself, You also have to take care of yourself. You can say no when you need to so you can say yes when you truly mean it.”

Skillman, lieutenant governor since 2005, will leave office in January 2013 when she and Gov. Mitch Daniels complete their second term.

Learning from Leaders, started in 2010, connects leaders to students and faculty to expand students’ understanding of issues involving contemporary leadership. Guests to date have been Tom Davis, vice president/group publisher at Meredith Corp./Successful Farming; Vern Hawkins, president of Syngenta North American (NAFTA) Crop Protection; Don Villwock, president of the Indiana Farm Bureau; and Sonny Beck, president and chief executive of Beck’s Hybrids.


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