‘DIFFERENCE MAKERS’: Think about the champions you’re investing in | TSLN.com

‘DIFFERENCE MAKERS’: Think about the champions you’re investing in

Sometimes being a leader is just being a neighbor or a friend. Photo by Scott Dirk

"How about those Bison!" In January, I had the opportunity to attend the national championship football game in Frisco, Texas. What an exciting game! It was definitely fun to watch! I want you to think about one question related to the game. What was the difference maker that made this group of young men champions? We'll come back to that question later.

In this month's column, I'll reflect on what we need to do, both individually and collectively, to ensure we meet the ever pressing need for strong leadership in the beef industry now and in the future.

Have you ever wondered how leaders emerge and what they have in common? Many will debate whether leadership skills are the result of nature or nurture. My observations lead me to believe it is a combination of both. I think there are some basic building blocks and skill sets which must exist for a person to emerge as a leader. However, there are a lot of things we can do to encourage and develop leaders, beginning relatively early in their development. Judging from my own experience with leaders in a variety of fields and industries in agriculture, higher education, and scientific societies, I would point to a group of people, difference makers, who influenced them and helped them reach their full potential.

Pause for a moment and think about someone who was a difference maker in your life. Maybe it was a parent or grandparent, neighbor, family friend, teacher, or someone else. What particular traits did that person have? I would venture to say they were generous with their time, had the ability to develop and maintain relationships, and were a good listener. They were willing to spend significant time and energy to help you become a better person.

My first leadership development experiences came in my local 4-H club and FFA chapter where I learned how to run a meeting, why parliamentary procedure is important, and how to make collective decisions. Those experiences allowed me to develop and experience some very basic leadership principles. Likewise, I come into contact with people on a daily basis who were positively influenced as young people by local community members who served as FFA advisors, 4-H club leaders, and in other mentoring capacities.

In order for the beef industry, and on a broader scope, society, to flourish, we need to be willing to invest the most valuable capital – human capital. This investment can come in different forms and structures at different stages in life, but ultimately we need to be willing to share our time and talents with young people to help them develop and grow.

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Think about the young people in your community, particularly those interested in the beef industry. What are some ways you can help them develop as leaders? You can serve as a local 4-H club leader or allow a young person to gain hands-on experience on your operation. You can assist your local FFA chapter with an event they are planning or participate in a scholarship fundraising effort that will help a student achieve a college degree. You can support efforts your state cattle producer organizations have for leadership development. A good example is the North Dakota Stockmen's Association's Tomorrow's Top Hands program. This is a great event for youth! I really enjoy seeing the excitement and passion the students in this program have for careers in the beef industry.

Whatever you choose to do, make it intentional and make it meaningful. The data is clear on a couple of things. Young people benefit from intentional involvement and they benefit from long-term, sustained investments. You can be the difference maker for the next generation of leaders!

Back to the question I posed at the start of this article. What was the difference maker in the national championship game? What made them winners? In my opinion, it almost certainly involved a person or persons along the way who made a significant investment in the members of the Bison football team. Someone who allowed them to believe in themselves, helped them develop leadership skills, and taught them how to be resilient. The end result was a fourth consecutive national championship. Think about the champions you are investing in for the beef industry the next time you are asked to be a difference maker in your local community!

Greg Lardy is the NDSU Animal Sciences department head.