Written by B. Lynn Gordon (former SDSU Extension Agricultural Leadership Specialist).
Researchers have proven anyone can be a leader, leadership is not just for the select few — like CEO’s of major corporations, celebrities, political leaders and those with other major titles. Traditional thought was leadership has always been something for those with added charisma but leadership is for those who have passion and purpose to make a difference.
Leadership researchers Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner began asking followers what they expected from leaders. For thirty years they asked this question, to document the values, personal traits or characteristics people preferred in leaders. The results were these top four characteristics: 1) Honesty 2) Forward-Looking; 3) Competent; and 4) Inspiring.
As part of my research project, “What Brings People to Leadership Roles: A study of Agricultural Leadership,” I also asked this question to learn what characteristics would surface with agriculture leaders. Study participants who made their livelihood in agriculture where asked to describe or name characteristics they value in agriculture leaders and leaders serving in agricultural organizations.
The Four Characteristics of Ag Leaders:
- Listening and communicating – Agricultural leaders must have the ability and willingness to listen, interpret and then communicate the message back to those they are representing as they serve an agricultural organization. With complex issues facing agriculture, leaders today must have the ability to listen intently, gather important information, and openly communicate. Also identified was an individuals’ ability to engage people and make them feel their voice is important. Overall they should be able to keep communication flowing both ways.
- Team Builder – When you think of a leader you emulate, you probably think about their ability to bring people together. The study participants said leaders need the ability to motivate, encourage, engage and rally others around them in order to be able to bring people together. People will follow these agricultural leaders, especially because they lead by example. This is a valuable trait — their ability to motivate people and build teams because this is critical in keeping the organization strong. They empower people to be active and the result is a stronger organization representing agriculture.
- Integrity – As outlined in the major study conducted by Kouzes and Posner, honesty has been identified as the number one characteristic expected of leaders. People want leaders they can trust. Someone they are proud of and that other agricultural producers can put their faith in and trust their ethics, no matter the situation the leader faces. The study participants commented, this person you select as a leader is one of your peers and now they represent your industry, you have to totally respect them and their decisions.
- Knowledge – When agricultural producers select someone to be a leader of their organization they know that person is skilled and knowledgeable on specific topics and most likely a multitude of topics. They must have deep knowledge of the content area they are representing but be constant learners always seeking to broaden their knowledge base. They must be able to see the big picture and have the ability to lead followers in understanding the issues to make decisions when needed.
Interestingly, the small group of participants in my research project, identified characteristics of leaders in agriculture and agricultural organizations nearly identical to those from a database collected over three decades, reinforcing followers have high expectations of their leaders.