My Turn: What Makes A Leader?

Lynn Gordon, a recent addition to South Dakota State University Extension, elaborates on her research on beef industry leaders.The first step to be a leader is to show up and get involved.

December 27, 2011

3 Min Read
My Turn: What Makes A Leader?

“The number-one thing is showing up, going to the meetings and being involved.” That’s how one beef industry leader describes the path to industry leadership.

Another individual states: “If it’s an industry you’re passionate about, you want to make it better, you want to give back to it.”

These are among the comments shared by 12 national beef industry leaders when asked what prompted them to become an active beef industry leader. The results from the interviews were the basis of my doctoral research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, entitled, “What Brings People to Leadership Roles: A Study of Beef Industry Leaders.”

The study participants, who represented all production segments, emphasized they didn’t set out to be leaders. Rather, attending meetings, expressing interest in the topics discussed, and understanding the impact that the decisions made could have on their own operations were the catalyst for these individuals to assume leadership roles within a national organization. They say that this natural progression toward leadership allowed them to further develop their leadership skills and roles, as they became more involved in their organizations.

The study indicates these leaders were motivated by a purpose to speak up for, and give back to, the industry that supports their livelihood. Their pride – for the work they do, for the future generations to follow, for their families and communities, and for producing a safe, high-quality product – motivated them to give of their time and volunteer, they say.

These 12 individuals identify a beef industry leader as one with an innate ability to listen and communicate, while willing to:

• Serve their industry,

• Seek to make a difference and

• Fulfill the role of a decision maker.

These leaders say they are humbled to serve their peers and industry, and to be part of the decision-making process on issues that will impact their fellow producers.

Another commonality among the interviewees was a drive to make a difference. The participants emphasize the importance to them, as an industry leader, to represent the industry to the best of their ability, empower a shared vision and put the goals and mission of the industry first.

And, critical to their responsibility as an industry leader is being accountable, making decisions and envisioning the big picture. However, along with the decision-making role comes the understanding that some decisions will be challenging and require the leader to step up to the plate. But, as a leader, their peers expect them to make the decisions that will keep the industry viable.

My study also revealed that along with leadership skills is the innate ability to project these skills. “The people I really admire and try to emulate listen first and listen actively,” said one participant. This ability to listen translated into the person’s ability to disseminate information, build consensus and garner respect.

At a time when industry issues continue to present challenges to beef producers, producer leadership has never been more crucial. Active engagement is essential to the future success of the industry, and the findings from this study indicate that individuals who possess pertinent leadership skills need to remain highly involved to ensure the beef industry’s viability.

The information gleaned from the research study can provide a foundation for beef organizations seeking a greater understanding of the perceptions, expectations, recruitment and retention of leaders, along with the process a leader goes through in their rise to leadership. 

B. Lynn Gordon’s career has spanned 20 years in the beef industry. She recently joined the staff of South Dakota State University Extension and is based out of Sioux Falls, SD. For more information about the complete study, click here or contact her at [email protected] or 402-416-9454.

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