What is leadership? For many people, it is a difficult concept to understand because it is intangible. Even if most people would find it difficult to define leadership, they are likely to know a good leader when they see one.
Part of the confusion with leadership, whether or not you are involved with agriculture, is its more than 100 definitions. James MacGregor Burns, a noted leadership author and scholar, penned one of the most cited leadership definitions.
Burns contended leaders induce followers to act on certain goals that represent the values and motivations of both the leader and the followers. Burns believed in "transforming" leadership, which occurs when people work together to raise the level of the leader and the followers. The transforming leader should not be confused with a charismatic leader. Often the charismatic leader is the sole individual in charge of a cause. After that leader has moved on, the cause often collapses. Most effective leaders use charisma to some degree, but true leadership is more than charisma. It must be principled and must rise above self-interest and quid pro quo, "You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours."
Agriculture has long needed more leaders. In the 1960s, some agriculture faculty at Michigan State University recognized this and came up with the concept of teaching leadership to people in agriculture. With the help of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, this was the beginning of many agricultural leadership programs around the country.
The LSU AgCenter created its Agricultural Leadership Development Program in 1988 to address the needs of young Louisiana farmers, ranchers, foresters, nursery owners and others in agriculturally related enterprises. The two-year program involves a series of classroom and trip seminars that introduce program participants to a wide range of individuals, ideas and information that enhance their leadership skills. Since its inception, the Agricultural Leadership Development Program has adhered to Burns’ notion of transformational leadership.
The key to the success of the AgCenter’s Ag Leadership Program is what it means to the participants and Louisiana agriculture. It has produced more than 275 graduates, many of whom hold or have held important leadership roles and remain active in the program’s alumni association called Ag Leaders of Louisiana (ALL).
It takes more than one person to create change. Transforming leaders can achieve significant change not because they have a network of followers, but because they are a network of leaders armed with principles. One of the unintended consequences of this program is the contacts the graduates develop and use in all sectors of agriculture. Alumni network with their fellow graduates to solve issues related to agriculture. This level of engagement is used not only throughout the program but for the remainder of their professional lives.
Transforming leadership has been and should continue to be an underlying philosophy of the Agricultural Leadership Program. The AgCenter faculty involved in the program have seen a transformation in the participants. These leaders have increased their commitment to their professions, the conscientious stewardship of their land, and their unselfish willingness to become involved in community, state and national issues.
These leaders come to understand the critical need for them to be an informed voice for agriculture in Louisiana and their responsibility to support and enhance an industry that competes worldwide but serves the economic, social and cultural needs of Louisiana’s local communities.
(This article was published in the summer 2006 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)