In late 2007 The Centre for Rural Leadership, a predecessor organization to the Rural Ontario Institute (ROI) commissioned a study with Ipsos Reid to look at leadership gaps and needs across rural Ontario. Through an in-depth interview process with key leaders and other stakeholders in rural Ontario and an analysis of the data generated, it became clear that there were a number of important skills and attributes which were critical to ensuring effective rural organization leadership in the future.
Those interviewed attributed communications skills, visioning, the ability to see and understand the big picture, and the ability to work with others as key to a leader’s success. When asked to list the specific skills most important to be developed during the early stages of leadership engagement, respondents noted critical thinking, public speaking, communication and conflict resolution skills as well as the need for a good understanding of team concepts and governance models.
Those surveyed also indicated that leadership training was, and should be, a necessary ongoing process throughout a person’s leadership career. They indicated that successful individuals were more likely to have participated in some type of formal leadership training early in their leadership careers. In rural Ontario, leadership training can start early with organizations such as 4-H Ontario, Scouts and Guides, and through school and other youth oriented programming. In the spirit of learning ‘from cradle to grave’, the Rural Ontario Institute offers the well respected Advanced Agricultural Leadership Program (AALP) for current and emerging adult leaders. In addition, aspiring leaders of all ages can take advantage of Steps to Leadership programming at the community level and which is currently being delivered through the Rural Ontario Institute in collaboration with 4-H Ontario and the Foundation for Rural Living. These specific programs, in addition to a variety of leadership development programming available through local volunteer centres, other rural organizations and service providers, means that training is available for those who want to participate and get involved.
At a time when the agriculture, agri-food and rural sectors are under increasing pressure, and the resource base is getting smaller, it is important that leaders have the skills and knowledge noted to ensure a positive road forward for the industry. They need to be well rounded and visionary, able to give of their time, have the ability to be fully connected (electronically, through knowledge, personal and professional networks and in person), committed and willing to collaborate with others. Leaders now and in the future also need to be able to ‘jump in and out of issues’ as the need arises and they must be able to lobby, effectively advocating on an issue without whining.
They must also realize, as time marches on, that the need for some organizations will be questioned. Where it makes sense, some organizations may choose to amalgamate or merge; some will redirect their focus and mandates; others may disappear as their mandates wither and their impact decreases or because of the lack of organization succession planning in place to ensure continuity and progress forward. Finally, some organizations will disappear because they do not fully understand that it is vitally important to engage youth and young emerging leaders in their organizations.
In a 1999 report from the Conference Board of Canada, it was noted that “leadership capacity is an important component on the road map to prosperity. The quality of leadership is definitely linked to the quality of life in a country.” I remain absolutely certain that leaders with the skills, knowledge and attributes noted above and with the drive and desire to succeed, will do so within Ontario’s agriculture, agri-food and rural sectors and beyond. Their leadership skills will be evident… the organizations they lead will prosper… and the industry will be better off because of their talents and understanding. Just watch them lead!
Rob Black, Chief Executive Officer