Execute. If you don’t have the ability to put wheels under ideas and involve others in pulling the wagon, you don’t have a lot. Bright, shiny objects are fun, but they become dull over time and get put away in the back of the closet. Only those who can execute and grow ideas are true leaders.
Keep an open mind. “There exist limitless opportunities in every industry. Where there is an open mind, there will always be a frontier” said Charles Kettering. Many think North America’s greatest days of innovation are in the past. I disagree; one can always find a frontier desperately in need of thought leadership. Agriculture is ripe with those opportunities; look at the technologies, businesses, communities and techniques available to you now that didn’t exist five years ago. Be open enough to find a way to adapt them for the benefit of the big picture.
Stay tenacious. Producing food, fuel, feed and fiber isn’t an easy business. Weather works against you. So do agendas around a myriad of issues, often fueled by misinformation. But always know that one small voice, a single picture, or a tweet may just capture the attention of thousands and put a friendly face on farming.
Roll with change. You’re as young as you’re ever going to be today — are you really sure you want to spend your life complaining about change? Many reference their age in not doing well in social media, but I’ve seen 60-year-old grandpas outpace 25-year-old guys in using Facebook. Don’t let your age, position or lack of experience prevent you from adapting to change!
Practice humility. Enough to admit when you’re wrong and apologize when needed. There’s not a better teacher of this than being a parent. Humility is rare in those holding leadership positions, but the few who possess this trait can lead a movement as servant leaders.
Express optimism. If you don’t believe in a better tomorrow, why should anyone bother to follow you?
Be willing to have tough conversations. Is local/organic better? Do we still need subsidies? Why do you think your farming practice is better than mine? Do consumers have a right to decide how their food is raised? Difficult, but thought leadership is about leading the conversation, not reacting to it. It’s also about taking the high road even when others sink to the gutter.
Truthfully, I’d like to see more true thought leadership in agriculture. We all preach to the choir that we have to do things differently, so how about we actually put our muscle where our mouth is?
Michele Payn-Knoper, nationally known professional speaker, founded Cause Matters Corp. in 2001 to help people learn how to champion their causes in the business, not-for-profit, agriculture and nutrition arenas. For more information, visit www.causematters.com.