Back in December 2004, I had the opportunity to speak in front of Ontario’s Premier, Cabinet Ministers and Ontario agricultural leaders at the Premier’s Summit on Agri-Food. I spoke about the value of leadership within the agricultural industry here in Ontario and opened my presentation with the following:
Nothing will work without strong leadership. I can still remember…
“… the first time I had to stand in front of a crowd to talk about an issue affecting my community.”
“… the two summers as a camp counsellor, my own social development, and working with a team of 30 other counsellors.”
“… the Agricultural Representative who dragged me to my first meeting, got me involved; watched me ‘take off’, supported me and acted as my mentor for years.”
“… feeling discouraged, but my parents must have recognized my skills and encouraged me to keep at it.”
“… when my organization president had to deal with a difficult situation and issue in my local commodity organization. It was tough but he persevered and we got through it.”
“… when the dump was being proposed for my community and my hesitation in volunteering to chair the Citizens Action Committee, and my absolute joy when we won!”
People express their views on leadership through their past experiences and memories. Each of the above statements is a quote from an individual discussing with me his or her understanding of the value of leadership. These people knew that leadership was a difficult concept to describe and measure, but they also knew when it had happened and when they’d experienced it. They also recognized that nothing is more important to the success of any community, agricultural or rural organization or project than the presence of a diversified corps of skilled, motivated effective leaders who are able to bring about positive change.
It is well understood that leadership effectiveness is huge in its impact on organizations and the agriculture/ agri-food sector and rural communities as a whole. Here in Ontario, we are under intense pressure and facing an era of unprecedented change driven by increasing societal demands and by the challenges of an increasingly competitive global trading environment, an accelerated rate of technological change/ growth and the ever-growing requirement to be competitive and innovative. At the same time the human capital resource base within the sector and rural communities is getting smaller and fewer leaders with the skills, knowledge and capacity necessary are willing, interested and/ or confident enough to take on a leadership role to ensure a positive road forward for the industry and their communities. With this in mind, it is absolutely critical to identify and support current and emerging leaders who are concerned about agricultural and rural issues, who have self-confidence; the necessary critical thinking, communications and advocacy skills; an understanding of Ontario’s economic, social, political and environmental systems and the world in which they operate; as well as a broad knowledge base and extensive networks in which to ‘work and play’. These skills will be extremely important for effective and long-term citizen engagement within the industry and beyond, at the local level within communities, within commodity organizations, general farm organizations and broader sector organizations. It will be these people who will lead the way in to the future!
Economic growth starts with building the capacity of people to provide effective leadership thereby ensuring strong businesses, organizations and communities. Part of this capacity is ensuring a strong leadership contingent from ‘within’ the agriculture/ agri-food sector and our rural communities. Most definitely there is value in developing leaders… for the individual leader, for their businesses, for the individuals around them, for the communities in which they live and for the organizations on which they serve. It is vitally important that each of us be on the look out for, and then support and encourage current and emerging leaders. Think about it… who are YOU encouraging?
Rob Black, Chief Executive Officer