Eminent leaders display passion for serving others and agriculture | TSLN.com

Eminent leaders display passion for serving others and agriculture

B. Lynn Gordon
SDSU Ag Leadership Specialist

What a treat. On September 19, I had the opportunity to witness the honoring of four of South Dakota's finest leaders and hear them express their passion for serving others, for agriculture and for South Dakota. Clarice Megard, Minnehaha County and Arlene Wessel, Beadle County were award recipients of the 2014 Eminent Homemaker and the 2014 Eminent Farmer/Rancher honorees were the Michael Randall Family on behalf of the late Michael Randall, Minnehaha County and Gary Sharp, Brown County.

The honorees and their families reminisced about serving in local and state leadership roles while juggling farming, raising families and many other responsibilities. Their biographies consisted of a long-list of activities, boards, committees and organizations which they served — some for up to 25 years or more —plus their dedication, responsibility and knowledge gained while carrying out leadership roles. However, what was most obvious was the passion and character of these individuals and how they exemplified true leaders.

Exemplary leaders

These individuals described several examples of leadership from their years of experience, which reminded me of research conducted by well-known leadership researchers Barry Posner and James Kouzes, on the "Five Practices of Exemplary Leaders." These honorees fit the mold identified in this research. The five practices are: 1) Leaders model the way; 2) Leaders inspire a shared vision; 3) Leaders challenge the process, 4) Leaders enable others to act; 5) Leaders encourage at heart.

Leaders model the way — Clarice Megad started a kindergarten class in Garrettson, SD, when she saw the need, in 1959. She didn't sit back and wait for something to happen, she took it upon herself to fill the need in her community. Three years after she started the private kindergarten class, the school district decided to add it into their regular school program. Her leadership was also modeled as she served on agricultural and livestock boards and worked alongside her husband to keep their hog and seedstock operation going.

Leaders inspire a shared vision — Eighty-four year old Arlene Wessell raised four children on a crop and livestock farm. Her husband, Irving empowered her to get involved in the community and serve — once their children were all of school age. Now he jokes, "I didn't think she would listen to me and get so involved." Arlene Wessell took her volunteer roles seriously. Her vision was to support education in agriculture in the state so the young people would want to return to the farm. Through tragedy and triumph, Arlene and Irvin inspired others and will celebrate 65-years of marriage in December 2014.

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Leaders challenge the process — Unfortunately Michael Randall's valiant fight with cancer took his life a month before he was to receive this prestigious honor. However, his family said he was aware he had been selected to receive the award and they prayed he would be present at the banquet, but cancer did not let that happen. His wife Becky accepted the award. Randall plowed a wide swath in his view of expanding South Dakota's connection and view of global agriculture, believing South Dakota had the calling of "Feeding the World." Leaders search for opportunities and Randall always had the ability to look outward. He was not afraid to ask questions and challenge the issues because he knew the value South Dakota could have in the global landscape.

Leaders enable others to act — Gary Sharp helped to build teams and organizations in the beef industry. From his initial leadership role as SD State 4-H President in 1965, his drive to get involved took off and is noticeable today at state and national levels in the livestock industry. When asked how he served in so many capacities and still managed a crop and livestock farm, Sharp says, "I do this to repay and give back to the industry and organizations that helped me get to this point as a farmer and producer." Leaders like Sharp foster relationships. He does so with the philosophy that you treat those you work with as people, just like the way you would want to be treated.

Leaders ecourage at heart — All four of these individuals lead with integrity and excellence. They showed appreciation for their families who were back home keeping things going and showed appreciation for their fellow peers in organizations. We can celebrate, knowing South Dakota's agriculture and communities are better off today, due to these four individuals.

If your organization is seeking more information on recruiting, retaining, or understanding the roles of leaders and leadership, contact me, B. Lynn Gordon, lynn.gordon@sdstate.edu to learn more about SDSU Extension's new educational leadership program called "Inspiring Ag Leaders".