Wednesday, December 17, 2014

An Unlikely Leader

What does it mean to be a leader? That you aspire to political office? Class president? The back-to-school chairman of the PTA?

I never thought of myself as a leader, but somehow, at what some misguided folks might call middle age (!), I find myself in the current year’s class of Leadership Idaho Agriculture. Thirty individuals from a diverse background, from farmers and ranchers and industry folks (grain elevator, cheese production, seed supplier) to resource managers from the BLM and NRCS, a nutrition professor and a homemaker/agriculture advocate, we come together four times, over four months, to learn a variety of skills to “lead.”

I’ve been giving that word lots of think time. I ran it by Mark in our winter-time routine of early morning discussions in the dark before we get out of bed. This morning I asked him how he defined a leader. As is usual, he mostly listened and I mostly talked. So here goes:

A leader can be anyone in any circumstance. It’s not only a calling for those with an outgoing personality or the gift of gab, the extroverts that are so highly celebrated in our western culture; it's a calling for us all.  

It’s the middle sister who always plans the annual family campout, making sure the details are covered, right down to the matches in the glove box. It’s grandma, who provides the calm voice of reason during family squabbles. Or the ranching son who returns from college to “lead” dad and grandpa to a new way of doing business.  It might even be a ranch wife who turns her love of the land into a blog about the ranching life. 

Think of those around you who don’t necessarily step into the spotlight, but inspire others. Their influence is sometimes felt rather than heard. They keep calm when others panic. When others slide into apathy, they stay engaged, no matter their age or persuasion.

It starts with the oft quoted belief, “if not me, then who?” It is sound judgment practiced from a base of knowledge and experience. It is bravado, the courage to speak your truth even when it’s risky to do so. It’s valuing that even though you’re not the one to lead the charge up the mountain, you might be the one who poses the question at a contentious water meeting that finally turns the conversation in a constructive direction.

In every lifetime we get plenty of chances to lead. Maybe boiled down to its very essence, it is our higher self leading our unconscious, rote self, every single day.

I say we can all work on improving our leadership skills, and be a force for good – in our careers, in our families and communities, and in our sometimes scary and fragmented, but increasingly “connected” world.

Who’s with me?

A big part of Leadership Idaho Agriculture is learning about various food industries in the state:

washing and sorting potatoes in Pingree
photo by Jen Root

Garrett and Jeremey pose by chick peas ready for shipment in Lewiston


  1. Wendy, this is excellent! Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Wonderful Post. There are so many levels to leadership, we need to keep that in mind. I am with you, 100%. Thank you for sharing.

  3. you hit the target with this piece. well done