Our Finest Hour? Agriculture and Leadership

My 11 year old son Gus is fascinated with the Second World War and so was thrilled recently when his Mum took him to London where he visited the Churchill Museum. I too was thrilled because he brought me back a book of Churchill quotes, which has made for fascinating reading over the last week or so. It really got me thinking about leadership at a time when the global agriculture industry is going through so much change, because the success or otherwise of how we fare as an industry will come down to leadership: plain and simple.

So what is leadership and how could Churchill be relevant to leadership in
agriculture? How can we legitimately hope to make a difference and manage through change? Well one quote in particular caught my eye:

“Every day you make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before an ever lengthening, ever ascending, ever improving path. You know you will never get to the end of this journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb …”

It is clichéd, but it is true, change is a journey. What makes the journey worthwhile is the destination – where is it we are aiming to get to. Our job as leaders of the industry, is to paint the picture of that destination. What are we trying to achieve and why will it be worth it when we reach there?

Now sure, like my kids in the car, we might often ask, ‘are we there yet?’ But if we can explain where it is we are going, how we are going to get there and what it will be like when we arrive, then the journey will be worth it.  This is exactly the sort of leadership Churchill espoused during the darkest hours of WWII, constantly reminding people of the destination, the goal or the end point and how that would be better place than where we might currently be. So making the journey worth the effort.

The task of a leader is to paint the vision and tell the story. People need to have anchor points and they need to know that what they are going through is worth it for the end destination.  We should never under-estimate the desire of people to feel a sense of belonging and needing to have direction, and real leaders can paint this picture.  Real leaders can also be honest about what it might take to get there and also recognize that there will be challenges along the way, but never losing sight of the end point.  By clearly telling the story, each of us can know the role we might play in helping to get there.

Leadership in my view is analogous to a game of football – the job of the leader is to mark out the field, be sure that the team is clear where the goal is – the direction you need to run – and makes sure the team has the skills to play the game. But then the leader needs to step back and let the team play the game with a clarity of mind on what it will take to win and how this will be achieved. The leader moves from leading to coaching so it is the team that scores the goals, not the leader. But they can do this because they are clear on where they need to score and they have the skills, strategies and tactics to do this.

There was of course, one other great Churchill quote that caught my eye … “When you are going through hell … keep going”.

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