Leadership is a Verb: A Leadership South Dakota Q&A with Ali Sheley
It’s been said that to be a leader is a verb, not a noun, and that’s an adage that aligns with Dakota Resources’ Ali Sheley.
This month, Sheley celebrates her graduation from Leadership South Dakota, a premier leadership development program that draws together professionals across industries in the state to promote greater understanding of what it takes to be a leader in our state. For Sheley, March 2022 also marks another graduation of sorts, as she departs her role at Dakota Resources as the Vice President of Finance and Controller to pursue the next step in her career at an international accounting firm’s office in Sioux Falls.
Before Sheley’s departure, we caught up with her to learn more about her Leadership South Dakota experience and to wish her well in her next adventure.
Q: What were your favorite experiences or sessions in Leadership South Dakota?
A: Our session in Pierre, SD, was a surprising favorite of mine. I learned so much about how the state worked and enjoyed the behind-the-scenes peek at leaders in state government. In our world, where there seems to be so much political division, it was refreshing to see our state leaders as humans who are doing a job and to hear what keeps them up at night.
Our time in Pierre was also our first meeting as a group, so to see the bond that developed instantly between myself and 42 people was pretty incredible.
Our session in Rapid City gave us an amazing opportunity that most of us wouldn’t have had: we got to sit in the cockpit of a B-16 Bomber airplane and be in close proximity to weaponry, which was unbelievably cool.
Finally, our session in Mission, SD, was such an eye-opening experience for me. There can be a lot of harmful rhetoric around the native experience, and it was difficult, but important, to gain perspective and come face-to-face with history.
Q: Describe the value of the relationships and connections that you made throughout the Leadership South Dakota program.
A: As an introvert, I characterize myself as a private person, and I tend to hold people at an arm’s length. After our second session of the program, which was held in Brookings, I was surprised to feel excited to go home and tell my wife what I learned about my friends during the session. I don’t know if this is one aspect of life in a post-pandemic world, where we’re all craving connection with others, but it didn’t take long at all for me to recognize and appreciate that there is something magical about this group of people.
Before Leadership South Dakota, I heard so much about the value of networking inside the program, but I care more about these people as humans, not who they are at work. As someone who’s often found value and worth in work, it’s remarkable to see this group of people outside of their job titles. We were here because of our work, but now we know each other in spite of our work.
Q: How did your experience in Leadership South Dakota support or strengthen your career goals?
A: I’m a person who has often struggled to define my worth and my contribution to this world beyond what I do for work, and Leadership South Dakota helped me to detach from that. My work doesn’t have to define who I am.
In my work at Dakota Resources, I called myself a financial storyteller; my role is to tell a financial story and to make sense of that story so that others can make decisions based on that information. Steering this organization financially was an opportunity that provided me with the most growth in my entire career, but at the same time, the responsibility to ensure that Dakota Resources remained financially stable in the midst of the pandemic was incredibly stressful.
Leadership South Dakota gave me confidence in myself as a person and helped me to see my value beyond my work contributions. This program gave me so much confidence that I could take that next step in my career, and that I could continue to carry on this mission in my new role.
Q: Describe the role of programs like Leadership South Dakota when it comes to understanding what it means to be a thriving rural community.
A: After our Rural South Dakota session which took place in and around Watertown, we were all able to see how the definition of a thriving rural community has changed over time. As a class, we gained a really clear sense of what it means for rural communities to thrive, and how this looks different for each and every community.
For me personally, I grew up between an urban home in Des Moines, IA, and a farm in Van Meter, IA, so I’ve always had one foot in an urban setting and the other in rural life. I felt like I am leaving Leadership South Dakota, and Dakota Resources, with a clear appreciation for both. People don’t have to leave rural communities to “be somebody” – it’s not an “either/or” conversation, but a “both/and.” I see deep value in both places.
Because everything in South Dakota is rural except for “the coasts” of our state, which is how I fondly refer to Rapid City and Sioux Falls, the bulk of our time in Leadership South Dakota was spent in rural communities, even if that wasn’t the specific focus of our sessions. There was a thread woven into the program that every place in South Dakota is valuable, and the notion of a thriving rural is embedded in that conversation.
Q: If someone is thinking about taking part in Leadership South Dakota, what would you tell them?
A: Do it! Jump on the opportunity, and give it all that you have – it’s so worth every ounce of energy and effort that it takes to make it work. It’s worth the days away from work and the catch-up that you play after your sessions.
It’s okay if you’re not the person who has always raised your hand for leadership opportunities in the past. My experience taught me that everyone is leading in some capacity, in the seat they’re in, and Leadership South Dakota emphasizes that leadership is more than a title: it’s the way you’re living your life. It will certainly be one of the most treasured experiences of my life.
TAKE ACTION: To learn more about the Leadership South Dakota program, please visit https://www.leadershipsouthdakota.com. If you’re interested in taking part in the program yourself, the application period for the 2023 Class of Leadership South Dakota closes on April 15, 2022.