Shari Williams, President Of The Leadership Program Of The Rockies. Interviewed By Brian Watson, Founder And CEO Of The Opportunity Coalition.


Brian Watson: Today we’re honored to have Shari Williams, the founder of the Leadership Program of the Rockies. Shari, welcome to the show.

Shari Williams: Oh, thank you, Brian. I’m glad to be on.

Brian Watson: Shari, tell us a little bit about you and your background, and the Leadership Program of the Rockies, specifically.

Shari Williams: Oh, great. Well, I’m the President of the Leadership Program of the Rockies, and I often introduce myself by saying I am helping to build the army for freedom, and that sounds like a pretty outrageous statement, unless you know the 1,300 graduates that have been through our program, and how they are constantly influencing Colorado politics and public policy, and the issues of the day.

Shari Williams

Shari Williams

And so my background is political and issue-based, and I’ve been doing this for, gosh, over 30 years, in the political realm, and I have the thrill of getting to organize and help teach a wonderful set of influencers all throughout Colorado.

Brian Watson: Well, LPR has had an amazing impact, not only in Colorado, but around the country, and frankly, probably around the world. Tell us a little bit about, what does the program look like? How many students go through that? And what is the training and discussions that occur?

Shari Williams: Right, well what we do is we try and equip people with the ways in which they can discuss current public policy issues, kind of through the lens of liberty, and understand the founding ideas behind the country, and what makes it so exceptional. And so our tagline is that we have timeless principles and leaders in action. So what we do is every year, we select 65 people from a competitive pool of applicants, and it is very competitive to get into this program, we turn away more people than we can accept.

Shari Williams

And those 65 people represent all sorts of different industries, political backgrounds, they’re often people from all over the state, in fact, I think we have over 17 counties represented this year, and they go through a nine-month program, where for an entire day, on the second Friday of every month, and they hear from some of the best national speakers, actually international speakers, on topics including the Constitution, the founding documents, capitalism, education, national defense, and a number of other issues that really help spur on their thinking.

And then they are required to be very interactive, be debate-oriented, and do some reading like Atlas Shrugged and Economics in One Lesson. And the whole idea behind it is to equip these leaders with the tools, so that they can have a thoughtful debate, and go out and be influential on their other fellow citizens.

Brian Watson: With regards to the people that you’re looking for, what does that look like? Do they have to have a long resume of public service, or do they have to be a certain age, or have a certain background? What are you looking for in those different candidates that you then accept into the program?

Shari Williams: Well, I’m glad you asked me that question. It’s a good question, because we have a great cross-section of people. We have people from 21 to 75 that go through the program, but they have one thing in common, and that is that we think they are influencers, or they have potential to be big influencers. So we look for leadership potential, their ability to communicate well, their experience plays into it and how they frame their experience, and then also, their ideological fertility to some of the ideas that we teach in the program. So we look for those four characteristics. So some of them will have very long resumes. They’ll be in elected office, they’ll be captains of industry, they’ll be major influencers within the education or the energy committee, and some of them will be earlier on in their career, but we see potential in them.

For example, Gale Norton went through the program many, many years ago, but she went on to be the Colorado Attorney General, then she went on to be the Interior Secretary in President Bush’s cabinet. When she first went through, she didn’t have all of those elected offices, but I think that she would agree with us today, that helped shape her viewpoint, and gave her a team of people that would help her in her political success.

Brian Watson: Well obviously, LPR has had a phenomenal impact in Colorado. Have you thought about taking the program on a national level, or for our listeners that may be outside of Colorado, are there resources that they can garner to help them in their walk?

Shari Williams: It’s funny that you mentioned that, because in fact, we’re working on that, as we speak. We really would like to take this to a national platform, and we’ve had – I think I’ve had over 24 states contact me, and tell me that they’re interested in having something similar, because there’s nothing like the Leadership Program of the Rockies in the rest of the country. There’s think-tanks, there’s political organizations, but there’s nothing that focuses on the founding principles and the three concepts that we work with in LPR, as much as we do.

And so currently, I have one class member, in the most recent class, that’s coming in and driving nine hours from Missouri, just to attend. Last year, I had people coming in from Kansas and Nebraska and Oklahoma, and we are looking at expanding, and we’re currently raising the funds to make that a reality.

Brian Watson: When you speak about funding, how is funding usually handled for LPR? Is it all by private donors? Do you have bake sales? How do you fund the program.

Shari Williams: Well, we haven’t had any bake sales lately, but what we do is we go out and we take our message to people that understand our mission, and what we do is, the class members pay part of their tuition, but the full cost for each individual to go through is about $5,700, and we are able to raise a lot of money from people that understand that the country is going down the tubes, and that the only way we’re really going to change things in the long run is by educating new leaders that will go and make the right decisions, when they’re in positions of influence. And so, we get some grant funding, but it’s all private grants, and we get a lot of individuals that agree with us on our mission, and are very generous. So it’s exciting.

We do some events. We have an event in February at the Broadmoor, and it is what we call our annual retreat, and it’s kind of a regrouping of a lot of people that have gone through people, and a lot of people that are supportive, and they come in to hear some wonderful speakers, and kind of recharge their batteries with the network. We speakers like Charles Krauthammer, or last year, we had George Will, and a number of speakers you might not have even heard of, but you go away so excited and reenergized, and a lot of our donors then ante up some more, because they know we’re doing the right stuff.

Brian Watson: I’ve got the opportunity to attend that event before, and I’ll tell you, my wife and I have gone, and the conversations that we have, it just doesn’t stop. You’re so excited, there’s just some unbelievable influential people and ideas that are brought forth, and it’s a great group of people, and I encourage anyone to go down there. How could people learn more about that?

Shari Williams: Oh, I appreciate that, Brian, because it is a lot of fun. People are just on fire afterwards. The – if they would like, they can go to our website at www.LeadershipProgram.org, and hit on the Retreat button, and it will start to tell you more information about how to sign up, and we’ll start announcing speakers soon, but they can get it on their calendar right now for February 20th and 21st.

Brian Watson: Shari, you’ve had an amazing impact, and LPR has as well, and I guess I would like to ask you, what would be your definition of success, not only for the program, but for somebody who has the opportunity to go through that? Is that holding an office somewhere, is that affecting their community? What would be the definition of success for LPR?

Shari Williams: Right. Well, it’s kind of like my own vision of success, which is to define success as a life led with integrity, where your principles and your actions actually align. And that’s why we focus on principles. A lot of people say, oh, you know, you talk about the latest issues of the day, and we do, but what we do is focus more on an underlying principle, and then we teach people how to actually think about their values, as it aligns with that principle. And so for me, there’s no cookie-cutter formula for what success will look like, because we’ve had lots and lots of success, as far as elected officials. I think right now, half of the Republicans at the Colorado State Legislature have been through our program. We’ve had Congress people, we’ve had federal judges, we’ve had successful businesspeople, we’ve had political leaders.

I’m excited by the Douglas County School Board members that all were graduates of LPR, that decided that they wanted to change Douglas County schools, and implemented fundamental education reform, and I love how that’s spread to places like Jefferson County, where we were able to win some new seats on the school board there. And we see all sorts of success like that, but it can’t be defined as just one kind of goal. What we try and say is, whoever the influencer is that’s going through LPR, we want to give them the tools, the ideas, and the network to go out and be successful, as they define it.

And so different people come in with different objectives, but what I love the most is how enthusiastic they get, and how they work as a team to do things that you’d never imagine. For example, the gun recall elections that happened last year, those were led by LPR grads, people that understood that your Second Amendment rights are very important, and that we had some legislators that didn’t understand those principles. And so, that’s kind of how I look at success. I know it’s not definitive in one way, but what we want to do is maximize influencers, to remind the country about timeless principles.

Brian Watson: And I think you hit the nail on the head. Having those timeless principles, and they are timeless. There are certain principles in this country that have helped to make this country great, and have empowered people, and have been like none other in the history of the world, and to build that army of freedom, I just think is absolutely important. So I really appreciate your efforts with regards to LPR, and I encourage our listeners to learn more about it. It’s a phenomenal program that’s impacting many, and having ripple effects, not only all through our state, but the country as well.

I’d like to transition, Shari, if you would, to a few that are more on a personal level, because you have been involved in so many things, and I’d like to ask you a few questions. I’d like to start off with what is one of your favorite quotes or sayings, and why?

Shari Williams: Well, it’s funny. I often use this quote at the very beginning, in the very first class, partially because we have everybody in the program read Atlas Shrugged, and it’s an Ayn Rand quote, and she says: Intellectual freedom cannot exist without political freedom, and political freedom cannot exist without economic freedom. And a free mind and a free market are corollaries. And I like that quote, because I think it kind of sums up what my whole life’s passion has been. Even since I was a five-year-old kid, I was walking neighborhoods, handing out literature for candidates, and I don’t think I knew it then, but I think I was trying to actually pursue this idea of political freedom and economic freedom. And to this day, that’s where my passion lies.

Brian Watson: I don’t have to tell our listeners, if they haven’t had the opportunity to read Ayn Rand, and specifically Atlas Shrugged, hands down, it is one of my favorite books, and she’s just an amazing, amazing writer. And you look at how that book has impacted many, and I think that’s a great quote from a wonderful book that I would highly recommend for people to read. So thank you for that.

Shari Williams: Yes, and it’s interesting, because it seems like it’s happening a lot these days, and so, it was written a long time ago, but boy, does it feel like it’s happening in the country now.

Brian Watson: I think you’re absolutely right, and it’s amazing to see, I think, sadly, each year that goes by, it seems to be coming more and more true. And so, glad that they made a movie of it, but at the same time, there’s nothing like picking up the book and going through that, and just a great, wonderful read. Shari, what is some of the best advice you have ever received?

Shari Williams: Oh, that is a very good question. You know, I think it is, really that, trying to be true to yourself, and understanding and continuing to learn, and having the confidence to speak out. If I had anything that I could change about our country, it would be that citizens would feel confident that they, in fact, are We the People, and that they should speak out and be assertive about their individual rights and responsibilities. And so, I think, the best advice I’ve ever gotten is to be confident about that, and to learn as much as I possibly could.

Brian Watson: That’s very wise. Absolutely. Tell us about one of your proudest professional moments.

Shari Williams: Ooh, that’s a hard one. I think, you know, it’s funny, because my career has had a couple of faces. I’ve worked with political candidates for almost, over 30 years, and I was thrilled when we won by 121 votes, and found out five weeks later, that Bob Beauprez was the new Congressman from the 7th Congressional District. I remember how many people told me it couldn’t be done, and in fact, a week beforehand, told me it would not be done, and I remember yelling at my team, saying, we will make this happen, and we will work until the polls close and not a minute beforehand. And when we won by 121 votes, I was really proud of that.

And then my career kind of went into – I’ve also worked on things like term limits. I was the first campaign manager in the entire country that actually helped pass state and national term limits. And then, I got an opportunity to go and travel to 24 other states, helping them put that on the ballots. And it’s not that term limits by itself was so important, but it was a way of organizing citizens towards something they felt like they could make a difference, and send the signal to their elected officials, that they wanted to change the system, that systemic change was important, and that they weren’t expected to be in office forever. They were expected to live like citizens. And so I think, those are maybe two examples of things where we did some pretty tough battles, but we came out on top.

Brian Watson: I think a key part there is making sure that you’re involved and informed. Oftentimes, I think in society today, people think that their vote doesn’t matter, and when you look at some of these elections, that literally come down to hundreds of votes, this can help change the direction of a state, or a country, and frankly, the world. And each and every person needs to get involved.

Shari Williams: Yes. I agree, and as I’ve always said myself, as kind of a political coach, I don’t know that I’m the best to do it. I’m no Elway, or no Peyton Manning, but I think I can help people understand the fundamentals of how to get involved and how to make a difference, and how to assert themselves, and how to have influence. And so that’s how I see my career, and LPR for me is just a great way to do that.

Brian Watson: I think it’s a phenomenal platform, and a great impact. What do you think is one of the biggest challenges or threats facing our country or world today?

Shari Williams: Yeah, well, especially for our country, and we should be the leaders in the world on this, is too many of our citizens become passive, and they have allowed the government to take new liberties with our individual rights, and it threatens free enterprise, it threatens our American way of life, and I think it threatens the entire world, when we’re not the thought leaders on this. And it’s unfortunate that our prestige has been diminished in the world, because I think people have gone toward thinking that they’re entitled to things, rather than in fact, the highest calling is when you earn something, rather than you have an expectation that you get a benefit, when it’s unearned. And I think we were the leaders for so long in that, and I see our government going the opposite direction.

Brian Watson: It’s interesting you say that, because I was interviewed recently, and they asked me a similar question, and I said, you know, I believe that apathy is a very bad thing for the republic, and I also believe that this entitlement syndrome, that unfortunately has gripped a part of America, that people think they’re entitled to something. And you’re entitled to get up in the morning and go make something of your life, and bless others, and to try to make a positive impact. And I think, when you look at apathy, and you look at things like entitlements, specifically within American society, it is a very concerning trend in our country. Would you agree?

Shari Williams: Oh, I would, and in fact, I couldn’t agree with you more, because not only for our country but for individuals, how it erodes the soul to understand that you didn’t earn something, and yet you got the benefit. It might be temporarily nice, but in fact, it’s not meant to be that way, and to rob people of a sense of accomplishment, I think that’s dangerous, and downright evil.

Brian Watson: I think it’s not only that, it’s immoral as well, as you’re saying. And it really, I believe that most people out there want an opportunity. They want to go achieve their dreams, and those dreams and opportunities do not come from the government. Yes, there’s a certain role of government in society, but true empowerment of the individual, and the freedom and the liberty to go achieve those dreams are much more rewarding, and much longer-term lasting than anything else that a government can do for them, at the end of the day. So I appreciate you say that.

Shari Williams: I couldn’t agree more. In fact, that’s – when we talk about, well what does LPR actually teach, we say individual rights, the proper role of government, not only limited government, because I think a lot of people think, if it’s limited, that means you get a lot and I get a little, but instead, what is the proper role of government at every level, and how in fact does that proper role protect individual rights? And in fact, if that’s government’s not doing that, how to engage and activate your fellow citizens. And if you put all of that together, we call it the proximity impact model, and what we want people to do is think about sharing those ideas with their fellow citizens within their reach, and kind of going viral with them, in a way that says no, this is stuff we can take back. We don’t have to listen to Washington on this. This is something we can control. And if we can change the country that way, I think we’re going to be the new founding fathers and mothers of the next phase of America.

Brian Watson: Well I agree with you, and I think communicating that message, and that connection, that the more a government gives you, the more it’s going to take from you in terms of your individual freedoms and those different things, people really need to make that connection. Government cannot be this entity that just gives and gives and gives, without expecting something back in return, and I think people need to realize that their freedoms and their liberties are at stake when they start going down that path too far.

And frankly, sadly, it’s a fundamental shift in American society, where government is going now. Regardless of your political affiliation, it has been changing, and we need to make sure that we push back on that, and listen to those timeless principles from the founding fathers. So I appreciate the work that you do in that regard. Shari, who are some of your mentors, whether living or historical?

Shari Williams: Right. Oh, such a good question, because I’m so fortunate and blessed to have so many wonderful people in my life. Well, first and foremost, my mother and father. From an early age, we were arguing politics at the dinner table, and at a very early age, they were supportive of me having the confidence to question the system, as it was. And so, I was never punished for speaking out. In my early career, I was lucky enough to work for US Senator Bill Armstrong, and talk about a man of integrity and a thought leader, and to this day, he’s still one of my best friends.

And then I got to work with Terry Considine, who is an incredible visionary, and we worked together on term limits, and so many other profound issues. And just to see the way his brain worked. To this day, I worry – or I’m sad that the United States never benefited from him being in the Senate, because he would have been phenomenal there.

Also, Helen Krieble, with the Krieble Foundation. She is very visionary, and has such a love and passion for the country. So I’ve worked with so many phenomenal people across the country. It’s kind of even hard to narrow it down, but I feel very blessed to have such great role models.

Brian Watson: Well, I know a few of the people that you’ve mentioned, and I would agree with you. These people are wonderful people, and they’re salt of the earth. They really are people that want to help serve others and make a positive impact. I think it’s unfortunate, in a lot of the political realm today, that sadly, a lot of these leaders are all about themselves, and the people that you just mentioned are people that care about others, people that care about future generations and our country, and I believe we need more leaders like that within our country, so I appreciate you saying that. What parting advice or golden nuggets of wisdom would you like to share with our listeners?

Shari Williams: Ooh, a golden nugget of advice. That is a good question. Well, I guess it’s be passionate, to learn as much as possible about the country and the issues that go on, and to take a stand, and try to influence your neighbors, the people in your community, and not sit tight be happy with the status quo. To understand individual rights at the most profound level, and to understand that we’re not entitled to other people’s productivity. I know it sounds like it kind of goes along with everything else I’ve said, but when I think about my life, that’s everything I try and do on a daily basis. It’s what I try and help teach my nieces and people around me, and I think I’ll dedicate the rest of my life to it.

Brian Watson: Well, I appreciate that you’re doing that, because it does make a positive impact. And I really believe that if more of us could just take some of that wisdom and advice, I think it would be absolutely transformational in American society. Shari, what is the best way for our listeners –

Shari Williams: Brian, I just wanted to say one thing is, I just wanted to thank you for all you do. I recognize in you someone who not only steps up in the business community and the political world and the thought world, and a person that leads others. You’re generous with both your time and your money and your ideas, and we need more people like you, Brian, and so thanks for the opportunity.

Brian Watson: Well, that’s very kind of you to say. We feel blessed, and want to come alongside and bless others as well, because you see how fortunate we’ve been, and how a special a place we live in America. So thank you for that. Shari, what is the best way for our listeners to learn more about you, again, at the organization?

Shari Williams: Yes. Well, we’d love to have everybody go to our website, which is www.LeadershipProgram.org, or they can feel free to give us a call at 303-488-0018. We take applications for new class members, and the deadline for that will be August 31st of next year, and then we have all sorts of events that go on that are open to no-class members. And so, we’d love to have people sign up and participate and learn more about the founding principles.

Brian Watson: Well, Shari, thank you again for your time. Thank you for your work, and thank you for your impact. And I’ll look forward to seeing you somewhere on a campaign trail, or somewhere down the road.

Shari Williams: Great, thanks Brian.

Brian Watson: Thank you.