“Leading through Conflict” was the theme of Seminar 4.1; a one-day online seminar to allow for continued education during the pandemic.

All 27 participants were welcomed by Olga Brouwer, Executive Director, with a poem by the Minnesota poet Robert Bly. After updates on the adapted schedule and sharing of good news and other announcements, program leader Toby Spanier introduced the topic of the day: Navigating Conflict.

In small groups in virtual breakout-rooms, participants discussed how they see conflict by answering questions in a handout. We discussed how there are, broadly speaking, five different causes of conflict:

  1. Information:Something was missing, incomplete or ambiguous.
  2. Structural: Something in the environment leads to the conflict.
  3. Interest:Competition over perceived incompatible needs.
  4. Relationship:The presence of strong negative emotions, misconceptions or stereotypes, poor communication, or miscommunication.
  5. Values:A clash of personal values leads to conflict.

The Thomas-Killman Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) assessment was completed by all before the seminar, which allowed us to work in groups of same conflict mode/style. TKI identifies the following modes, which were all represented in Class XI: Avoiding, Accommodating, Competing, Compromising and Collaborating. Typical characteristics of each mode were discussed, as well as how to adjust to each conflict mode in real situations. Lastly, during this segment, we talked about least preferred styles.

After a lunch break, it was time to dive into the topic of “Difficult Conversations”, and the factors that play a role in this. The last segment of the day was introduced by Program Leader Christy Kallevig: “Conflict and Communications in Meetings”. Christy used the famous Snoopy characters as examples. We learned about the Communication styles: Passive, Aggressive, Passive-Aggressive and Assertive. There was also attention for difficult meeting behaviors:

  • Monopolizers
  • Challengers
  • Distracters
  • Bewares

To wrap up the session on Conflict in Meetings, concepts of Rethinking and Relearning were introduced. Plenty of great conversations and sharing of all, helped to visualize the challenges.

The day concluded with the class sharing Golden Nuggets of this seminar, including: Practicality, Resources on Conflict, EQ-i – I’m no fun in meetings, Conflict avoider, Self-awareness, Cultivate safe environment, Positive compliments, Timing, Applicability, Individual Rethinking, Recognizing styles, Be prepared for negative emotions, Individual characteristics, Context, New tools for conflict, Difficult conversations, Intend vs. Impact, Love one another, Practice conflict, Refueling feelings, Implementing Individuality.

That concluded the last virtual seminar of Class XI. We are planning on meeting in-person in Thief River Falls, June 23-25, 2021.

Submitted by Olga Brouwer, Executive Director MARL

Southwest Minnesota State University

The Seminar Management Teams (SMT’s) of Class XI presented on their leadership search activity of the previous day on this last morning of the session. A quick summary:

Black Seminar Management Team (SMT): Redwood Falls.   Kim, Chelsea, Holly, Shannon & Austin

  • Visited Dougs Lawn & Landscaping, and Weltch Equipment

Yellow SMT: Willmar. Jesse, Roy, Nada & Elizabeth

  • “Fine dining experience” visited Rolling Fork Vineyards, Simply Shrimp, & Novatech

Green SMT – met in Mankato. Jessica, Sarah, Haley, & Joel

  • Speaker: Sam Ziegler with Greenseam. Visited CBD Centers

Red SMT – met in Lanesboro. Kaelyn, Brad, Jana & Deborah

  • Amish experience, touristy area with river activities

White SMT – met in Chaska. Dylan, Quyntin, Katie, Amy & Eric

  • 5 Speakers – Rohit Shukla, Julie Tesch, Brett Bruggeman, JoAnne Berkenkamp, Michael Chaney

Blue SMT – met in Bemidji. Steven, Charlie, Dan, Cheryal & Brittany

  • Speakers – Dave Hengel

The seminar was wrapped up by sharing Golden Nuggets of this week. This included: “Power of the MARL Experience”, “People and Relationships”, “Simplify”, “Reaches of MARL”, “Importance of humility”, “Innovation”. That concluded the first EVER MARL hybrid/blended online & in-person seminar.

Submitted by Sarah McConnell & SMT Green

Day Two of Seminar Four was the day we all have been waiting for to finally meet some of our fellow MARL Class XI Classmates. The Seminar Management Teams (SMT) were meeting together in person, a highly anticipated, one & a half days with a few of our fellow classmates.

Each Team chose a location to meet and started the day with a Zoom meeting. Toby gave a lesson on Leadership Search, the mystery envelops were opened, and each Team member lead one of the lesson steps involving Leadership Search, with our plan in place it was time to “Go!” and practically apply all that we have learned in the previous three seminars.

As the Red SMT Team navigated through the day embracing the quintessential MARL experience, we were genuinely appreciative to have this time together. It was especially significant to have the opportunity to practically implement many of the lessons and techniques we have learned in previous seminars. In the evening we prepared a meal and sat around the dining room table for hours sharing stories, eating great food and reflecting on the day. It was a perfect MARL day.

Submitted by Deborah Mills

Turns out, strength based leadership can be a lot of fun! MARL Class XI participants gathered via zoom for another power-packed leadership seminar. Our focus was the book, Strength Based Leadership and the corresponding CliftonStrengths assessment. Class participants were asked to take the assessment prior to the seminar. Among the 27 class members, all 34 strengths finder themes were represented—we really are a well-rounded class!

We learned that the 34 strengths fall into four major domains: Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building and Strategic Thinking. While some members’ five strengths fell into just one of the domains, others had all four represented. Everyone is truly a UNIQUE individual and understanding areas of strength can help individuals, families, teams, organizations and communities work more cohesively together. What one person sees BEFORE the strengths assessment to be bullheadedness, for example, might be understood AFTER to be Self Assurance or Focus. Another example might be understanding that the Strategic Thinkers love data and need time to process. This can help the Executers give them time to plan and think rather than put them on the spot for decisions.

We used multiple activities to write out our strengths to help us commit them to memory and own them. Shelly Schell, MARL Class VI, engaged us in a tree-drawing activity to highlight our strengths, inviting us first to consider the roots. Are they deep or shallow? What does the soil look like? Is it rocky? Sandy? Pass through water? What is the trunk like? Is it solid or sinewy? What makes up the trunk? What are the branches like? Where is the tree located? Is it alone or in a forest? Everyone’s tree, just like we, as individuals, showed up very differently and exhibited to each of us, a lot of meaning in a short period of time. We also decorated a block with our strengths as a desktop reminder of what they are and came up with our own ideas/designs of what we thought our strengths might look or sound like.

We discussed in the absence of the Strengths Assessment, another tool to help discover strengths is SIGNS. Success: What is something you are great at and perform excellently? Instinct: What is something you are naturally drawn to? Growth: You like learning more and it’s easy to focus on it. Need: It’s psychologically energizing and it feels good to use it.

We then broke into our Seminar Management Teams (based on geographic proximity) and worked through an exercise to discover our team strengths. We would utilize these strengths for the remainder of the seminar’s in person activities.


We also considered the “dark side” of strengths and how being “too much” of anything might be off-putting in situations and to be cognizant of that as we work in our different team environments.

Submitted by Seminar Management Team Yellow: Nada Carter, Jesse Pabst, Elizabeth Golombiecki and Roy Wookey

Leadership is as much about following as it is leading. The final day of Seminar three focused on this leadership competency area.  After a quick warm-up by Olga (Exec. Dir) and Christy (see “Simon Says” photo), Program Leader Christy Kallevig introduced MARL class XI to Leading through Engaged Followership. MARL class members joined breakout rooms to think of examples of situations when leading and following occur simultaneously. Later class members shared how they saw leaders and followers present in a previous activity on day two of the seminar.

Christy shared Robert Kelly’s research on the types of followers (see diagram below).  She followed this with the four basic needs that followers have from their leaders: trust, compassion, stability, and hope. The class embraced the concept of followership and will likely continue to reflect on it throughout MARL and in their leadership development.

The followership workshop was followed by some time spent in Peer Learning Circles. Program Leader Toby Spanier introduced Leadership Action Plans. These online action plans will be used throughout the remaining time in MARL. The action plans contain sections on:

  • Practice and Application
  • Personal Goal
  • Personal Philosophy for Leadership
  • Goals for the Journey Beyond

Following some time with Peer Learning Circles and sharing of action plan items, class members were introduced to Seminar Management Teams (SMTs). Toby Spanier shared with the class that the SMTs are a geographic collection of MARL class members who work and lead collaboratively together to ensure…

  • MARL seminars are professional, effective, efficient, impactful, and fun.
  • Meaningful connections are built in all the regions of the state.
  • The region’s agricultural and rural communities’ interests and concerns are heard.

SMTs were then given time together to review and plan for seminar four which will be a hybrid seminar combine online learning and face-to-face experiences in SMTs by regions. MARL class members appeared to be excited about the possibility to experience part of a MARL seminar in person in March.

Finally, Class XI ended seminar three with their golden nuggets, such as “thoughtfulness, connections, incremental progress, followership, trust, authenticity, pause, words to choose/loose!

Submitted by Toby Spanier, Program Leader