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Dairywomen, don’t miss out on leadership opportunities

Barb Liebenstein Published on 31 October 2014

As women in the ever-changing world of agriculture, we continue to have more and more opportunities to take leadership positions. Whether it is as 4-H key leaders, school board members, industry board members, public office or other places in our workplace and communities, leaders are always a necessity if any individual effort is to be successful.

Once upon a time we lived on farms, raised our children, fed our husbands and maybe worked in the church basement kitchen if we had time. We were the original working mom with a stay-at-home component.

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A lot of times we were expected to feed work crews, get the kids to school and be ever ready for chasing cows back to or from the pasture, milking, running a tractor or helping out when any other emergency came up.

Most of the time when a salesman, feed consultant, creamery rep, or similar folk (mostly men) stopped in, they were always asking where our husbands were. They would bypass someone who just might know as much as the guy they were looking for in the first place.

Those days seem to be long gone; rarely do we get a glimpse of them. I don’t think any of us miss it.

Today we are making many important decisions, being a partner in the farm rather than an incidental farm-hand. As agriculture evolves to more technology and less manual labour, you will see us running GPS, auto-steer tractors with a complex computer system that would bring many ITs to their knees.

We are monitoring milking robots, auto feed pushers, running combines, planters and a whole host of technologically advanced equipment.

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This all leads us to one more important opportunity: Leadership.

I think good leaders make leadership a hobby. They read about successful leaders and try to do some emulating. They read about unsuccessful leaders and try to learn from their mistakes.

Many sectors of agriculture offer meetings with speakers who are well-versed in leadership. It is important to take the time to attend those meetings to enhance one’s education and interest in leadership. Don’t attend meetings for the sake of attending meetings and a free meal. Are the speakers well-known and respected in their industry and beyond?

What is the background and experiences of the speaker? Is this person speaking about something that is relevant to our interest and areas of expertise?

Are we born leaders or does our environment make us leaders? That is an age-old question for a lot of things. We can take all sorts of leadership tests to find out where we fall on the leadership scale.

It is very interesting to take them more than once. Perhaps every three to five years – as we change, so too does our leadership profile. Taking the test is of no value unless we read it, study it and apply its suggestions to further our leadership success.

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So if we have leadership, what do we do with it? Do we strive to help others be successful? Are we making ourselves more successful? Most importantly, are we passionate about whatever it is we are trying to be a leader in?

Do we put it on a shelf and let it sit dormant? If we do let it rest for a while, how long should that be?

I really like the quote by E.M. Kelly, “The difference between a boss and a leader is the boss says ‘Go’ and the leader says ‘Let’s go.’” The reference to “boss” here can mean an employer, but it can also mean a politician, board president, committee chair or anywhere else one might find a leader.

Every leader has the potential to bully, lead or be led. The biggest key to success is to know which skill to use and what particular role to take. All leaders have the ability to practice this fundamental truth; whether they do or not is up to them. There are so many bonuses to taking leadership roles.

We have the opportunity to meet and network with the movers and shakers of our industry, people making the decisions that affect our lives and livelihood. Perhaps we become some of those people ourselves.

Most importantly, I hope that we are setting the example for our daughters and nieces so they will feel inclined to become leaders themselves.

Still, in these times, there are plenty of boards and committees that are male-dominated. I am not sure it is because that is the way they want to be. Rather, women, just like men, need to know what is important to them and be willing to get in there and make a difference if they can. If they find they are in the wrong place, they need to know when to get out. Again, the same goes for men.

Leadership is oh-so-interesting and complex and well worth the effort. If the office, board or committee is something that is of personal and professional interest to us, we need to take a part and do our share.

Are we passionate enough to look for leadership? If not, that’s fair. We have enough other things to do. However, if helping make decisions and changes are important, what stops us from pursuing them? Everyone has their own answer to that one. Perhaps your leadership is at rest for a while. Don’t forget where you put it and that maybe it needs a little exercise.  PD

Wolf Creek Dairy is a 400-cow dairy owned and operated by Paul and Barb Liebenstein in Dundas, Minnesota.

Barb Liebenstein
  • Barb Liebenstein
  • Dairy Producer
  • Wolf Creek Dairy

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