Nationally-recognized speaker and ag advocate Michele Payn-Knoper doesn’t shy away from tough questions. If you’re looking for a straight answer on how to handle an issue, she’s your woman. Her blog is full of great tips for helping farmers and ranchers serve as ambassadors for their industries. In a recent blog, she offered the following tips on how to conduct yourself if you want to gain the respect of others to the point that they consider you a thought leader:
Be honest. It’s easy to pretend to be someone else in today’s social media-driven society; some people even thrive on building false profiles. Don’t be anyone but you! It’s also easier to say that we do everything right in agriculture — that farmers and ranchers never do anything wrong and that pundits are crazy. None of those is true; an honest conversation starts with the acknowledgement of problems across the agri-food system.
Put the industry as a whole before yourself. Call me crazy, but today’s regulations and activist agendas will impact you — your family, your bottom line, your right to farm — in 5 or 10 years. Are you sure that you don’t have time to step up and help those who are working to give you a voice? Of course you need to take care of home fires, but don’t do so at the demise of the big picture of agriculture.
Use your ears more than your mouth. Can you hear a question about agriculture or farming and really listen? Or do you automatically go into self-defense mode or come up with your answer while the other person is talking? I find many agriculturists are incredibly defensive when the conversation turns to food. A full 98.5 percent of the population never will live on a farm; they sometimes simply have a question. Thought leaders ask others questions and listen closely to the answers.
Keep an eye on the long term. Thought leaders are those who can look beyond their own businesses, understand global demands and consider the impact of policy, activism and markets on all of agriculture. If pork producers are having a major issue and you’re a dairy person, do you turn a blind eye? Or do you step up because of the implications for all of agriculture?
Keep passionate. Passion acts as a magnet. It propels a movement. It engages a community. Thought leaders have the ability to channel their passion for the good of the cause.
Be curious. Sometimes it seems that although children thrive on curiosity, adults bury it. Sometimes the simple act of asking “why?” can lead you down an entirely different path — a path of greater impact. And more importantly, it will help you discern what’s important to the people you’re trying to inform about agriculture.