Recently, I was in the home of the Kentucky Wildcats, or what some call the “Big Blue Country” of Lexington, KY. I was there to speak at an agricultural leadership program whose participants had just returned from educational tours in Europe. Our session marked the nearing conclusion of their program, and several influential alumni were in attendance to celebrate. Jim Caldwell, the CEO of a Farm Credit Association, provided brief and powerful comments concerning leadership and his own story. Jim started his career 36 years ago and was mentored early on by a long-term Farm Credit veteran, who provided a perspective that set Jim on the right path. The points he presented inspired our group discussion on the qualities needed in today’s agricultural leaders.
In most any endeavor, successful leaders pay close attention to detail. And if they are not naturally detail-oriented, they delegate or surround themselves with those that handle detail well. As an illustration of this point, Jim used the example of the Disney Parks that bare virtually no sign of trash. As each Disney employee is tasked with keeping the park clean, there is clearly a teamwork type of culture being promoted. In other words, there is no attitude of “that’s not my job” which extends from the CEO to the ticket salesperson behind the counter. This work culture is extraordinary because it is also too rare.
As an interesting parallel to Jim’s example, I watched a YouTube video film on the 1972 undefeated season of the Miami Dolphins. In their program, all the players and each coach cited “attention to detail” as the reason behind their successful record. Of course, they are the only team in NFL history that finished their season undefeated and untied, and then, delivered a Super Bowl win, too.
In today’s high-tech world, the amount of time spent in face-to-face connection and relation is decreasing, and sometimes discounted. Another of Jim’s points was to remember to thank those that helped you get where you are. In his case, he is grateful for his mentor. He also gave a quote I found particularly applicable, “Work with the best and forget the rest.” That is, surround yourself with a strong network of people because each will take you to a higher level.
Leadership sometimes means stepping out of your comfort zone and expanding your views to connect the dots. In his remarks, Jim pointed out that today it is too easy to get swept along in all the world noise and uncertainty, and lose focus on that which can be controlled. Leaders recognize and value those factors they can alter and manage.
In order to be a good leader, one must bring a positive energy to the situation. This energy tends to feed-off and spin from others, which in turn will elevate the performance levels of individuals and the organization.
Agricultural leadership comes from every sector in the industry. And regardless of demographic, enterprise, or farm background, many of those leaders will exhibit the attributes of which Jim spoke: detail, relations, openness and attitude.
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