BETHANY, W.Va. – West Virginia State Sen. William Ihlenfeld visited Bethany College on Thursday, Sept. 19, to share his insights on leadership skills with a group of future leaders.

“You might not be a born leader, but you can learn by observing those around you,” he said.

LEAD IHLENFELDIhlenfeld (D., Ohio County) defeated Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns in November and took over the state seat in January. Ihlenfeld serves on the Senate committees on finance, energy, economic development, pensions, and government organization.

In addition to his Senate duties, Ihlenfeld handles civil litigation, cybersecurity, and white-collar criminal defense, and is a former prosecutor.

On Sept. 19, he addressed about a dozen students who are part of LEAD, a student group that revolves around the Social Change Model of Leadership Development.

“[Leadership] is a process,” Ihlenfeld said. “It never ends, and I’m still learning every day.”

He offered the following tips for being an effective leader:

  • Make a daily list of tasks and cross off the most difficult first.
  • Evolve and learn from your mistakes.
  • “Be willing to bend.” The most effective leaders are not the most stubborn.
  • Don’t be afraid to bring in people who are smarter than you and who might intimidate you. “They will make your team better.”
  • Have your team’s back.
  • To emphasize that final point, he referenced a case during his time as a presidentially appointed U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia. During an investigation of banking giant HSBC, Ihlenfeld traveled to Washington and fought to keep his office involved in the case.

“They worked harder for me on every case moving forward, because they knew they had my support,” Ihlenfeld said.

IhlenfeldHe also encouraged students to step forward and take positions that others are reluctant to accept, because they can be important learning experiences.

Ihlenfeld discussed how he became the sports director for his college radio station, vice president of his fraternity, and even ran for state senate. He was approached last year by the Democratic Party after the filing deadline when the ticket was vacant.

As a senator, he said he learns from strong leaders on both sides of the aisle.

Ihlenfeld reference several well-known leaders: Washington, Jefferson, Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela. But on a personal level, one of Ihlenfeld’s early leaders was his track coach, whom he said understood the importance of an individualized approach to people.

“Find a leader in your life that you really respect and borrow from them,” Ihlenfeld said.

Throughout the academic year, LEAD students will take part in a variety of conversations and activities on such topics as diversity and leadership after graduation.

The program is in its first full year at Bethany and requires an application process.

“Senator Ihlenfeld’s presentation to the LEAD program today was enlightening,” said adviser Sam Goodge, executive director of student affairs. “The senator was able to articulate what leadership meant to him and the values that he holds when it comes to the topic. Senator Ihlenfeld led an engaging session that will be built upon as the students continue their leadership journey through the LEAD program.”


Bethany College, founded in 1840, is the oldest private college in West Virginia. The Bethany experience focuses on academic excellence in the area of liberal arts and prepares students for a lifetime of work and a life of significance.