By B. Lynn Gordon, SDSU Extension Beef Cow/Calf Field Specialist
Why do agricultural leaders serve in leadership roles?
Leadership has become a major buzz word in our society. In fact an internet search on Amazon will find 83,270 matches when you search for ‘Leadership Books’. The list is overwhelming, but offers many thought provoking reads by some of the industry’s most sought after leadership experts. These experts discuss topics such as: Who is a leader? What makes a great leader? How to be a leader? Obviously, there is a great deal one can read about leadership to gain new awareness on the topic and I encourage you to do so. However, one element missing in these leadership books is the focus on leaders in agriculture. Are they different than other leaders? What brings an agricultural farmer or rancher to serve in a leadership role? Why do people in agriculture, a profession with such a time commitment, still take the time to serve their industry?
Twelve national beef industry leaders shared their insight on the roles and responsibilities of an agricultural industry leader and the results were the basis recent research I conducted. The study called, “What Brings People to Leadership Roles: A Study of Beef Industry Leaders,” set out to gain an awareness about grassroots volunteer industry leaders. This column, will share some of the highlights learned from these leaders.
In the business world, employees assume positions of leadership and are considered leaders, because of the professional position or rank they hold within a company or corporation, but in agriculture — beef producers earn their way to leadership. Grassroots volunteer beef leaders earn their position on boards and within associations because of their willingness to serve and by earning respect and support from their peers. The study participants emphasized you can’t have a say in the future of your industry if your voice is not heard. Therefore these leaders started to get active in their local, state and national beef organizations.
What else did these 12 beef leaders share about their rise to leadership roles? First, they focused on their willingness to serve their industry and secondly, they served because of their commitment to the industry.
Unanimously, they demonstrated a willingness to be involved. As a result of their presence at meetings and events, their visibility was noticed and soon their willingness to take part and help out the organization was recognized by fellow association members. They began filling roles as committee chairs, serving on a board, or leading a special event. The participants agreed their willingness to be active and become more visible demonstrated the value they placed on being advocates for the organization. Their roles consisted of building membership, being vocal and positive about the industry and working to bring people together and empowering others. They experienced a natural progression rather than a charted roadmap to serve in a leadership capacity on national beef industry boards and associations. None of the leaders interviewed set out to be leaders, but they look back now and see the progress and process they stepped through. As the stepping stone process occurred, more doors opened and the leaders where challenged with new experiences which extended their involvement.
Unique from how leaders are often identified in the business world, grassroots agricultural producers volunteer their time to serve. Asked why they got involved and the answer was straightforward — because I want to give back to my industry and support its future. Pride for their industry, for future generations in agriculture, for their families and communities and for their role in producing safe wholesome food energized these volunteers to devote time away from their daily farming or ranching business. They did not discount others, who at certain times, due to family or business commitments were unable to dedicate extra time to serve their industry, but understand that if you have the ability and opportunity to leave your base operation, serving your industry is extremely rewarding.