So You Want to be a Leader!

I returned to the farm after being an army officer and a Vocational Agriculture teacher. I had aspirations of becoming a leader in the farm community. At one time I hoped to run for the legislature and be a senator. Over the years I have had many opportunities to fill leadership positions. The experience in those positions has dulled my desire to run for political office.

My first office was county president for Farm Bureau. It does not take a lot of campaigning to be elected to this office. In fact, after two years, I found that the only way to retire was to beg someone else to take over. The Farm Bureau experience was good for me because I had some very good training and saw a big farm organization from the inside.

Since my Farm Bureau experience, I have been on the Co-op board, held almost every church office, been a member of the county planning commission, a board member of state and national soybean organizations and filled short term commitments too numerous to mention. I also ran for school board and PCA board. Fortunately, I lost both elections.

My tenure in these jobs left an impression on me that is different than I expected when I began. I have found that my aspirations for high political office were greatly misdirected. My ambition now is to avoid the political scene if at all possible.

If your goal in life is to become a leader, you need to heed some of the lessons I have learned along the way.

I learned that being elected to an office is not as easy as being competent and well known. When I ran for the school board, I placed third in a field of 12 in the primary election. Since I had been going to almost every board meeting for several years and was active in school functions, I thought election was a sure thing. The people who urged me to run refused to help me campaign because they were “too busy.” I was surprised when the local radio station solicited me for advertising. I quickly informed them that I was not going to spend money to get elected to a job with no pay that I really didn’t want in the first place. Much to my surprise, I finished sixth in a field of eight in the general election. The individual who won the seat I was running for resigned from the board a short time after swearing in because his son was arrested for possession of marijuana.  Shortly after the election, the school board was taken to court by the teacher’s association because of a contract dispute. Losing that election was good fortune in disguise.

A second lesson that I learned is that if you are seeking a highly coveted office, some people will do anything to beat you. I put my hat in the ring for president of the American Soybean Association in 1988. I had never really aspired to that position. However, it appeared that if I did not get the office, there would be a time in subsequent years when there would be a void in leadership. Three of us ran for the position. One had made it plain from the day he went on the board that he expected to be president. I knew it would be an up hill battle. I was not prepared for what happened.

Rumors were circulated that I was not a full time farmer. Even though 20 years had lapsed since I quit teaching school, some believed that I was not really a farmer. A minor disagreement between an Arkansas member and me was portrayed as a north:south split that indicated I could not lead a nation wide organization.

The most frustrating aspect was the practice of the staff directing information to those that they wanted in positions of leadership. When I announced my intention to seek the presidency, I began to be left out of the information stream.  I was expected to vote on issues on which I had no previous knowledge. When assignments were made, I was given responsibilities that kept me out of view of the general membership. It was obvious that the staff had the individual they wanted for the office and they wanted me out of the way.

A third lesson is that no matter what you do, you will be misunderstood. My tenure on the County Planning commission has been 25 years of frustration. Part of it is due to the fact that I am the only one who farms in a highly residential area. Therefore, many times I am the only “no” vote on what I consider questionable development. The most frustrating aspect is that we try to do what our constituency wants, but by the time the information gets through the rumor mill, the facts have become completely obscured.

The last time our county plan was rewritten, massive amounts of time were wasted because people would show up at meetings who had not been in on prior deliberations. We had to cover topics repeatedly. Even then they would not believe that we were acting in their best interests when we did what they asked.

Something I learned from acquaintances is that an organization that you have devoted your life to can change. Friends my age who have spent a major part of their life in politics have seen the Republican party swing so far to the right that they are no longer part of the main stream. This leaves them in the position of having to compromise their ideals or risk losing the power that they have worked so long to develop. Their only salvation is to stay the course and hope that the current situation is short term. One had aspired to a higher office that now appears to be out of reach.  I am sad for him and for all who would have benefited from his leadership at a higher level.

I hesitate to think how many hours I have spent away from the farm in leadership roles. Even more important, I would hate to try to put a monetary value on those hours. There have also been rewards. I have met people from outside of my normal circle of acquaintance.  I traveled to Washington D.C. 25 times on business for the Soybean Association. Traveling for them also took me to the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. I was able to take my family to parts of the country that I probably would not have otherwise.

I developed contacts that are invaluable to me in my speaking and writing business. I was a leader in the church building program that will be a positive influence in the Plattsmouth community long after I am gone.

Most importantly, even with the frustrations, I have enjoyed what I have done. When I began the study of personalities I discovered that people my type will end up in leadership roles even if they have no aspirations of doing so. I am fortunate that I have enjoyed my activities and that most have had positive outcomes. If I were to go back to the beginning and start over, I would not do a lot of things differently. I might be more aggressive in seeking my goals. I might be more selective in what I chose to spend my time on. Fear of failure and disappointment would not make me to avoid leadership positions!