Social research professor Dr. Brené Brown reminds us that: “Connections are why we are here. It is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”
In agriculture and agri-business we tend to connect on a very deep level, driven in part by shared values and interests. As a community, our congregating is visible in every setting — a constant in the celebrations and shared sorrows of a large interconnected family.
As children in agriculture we were — and today’s farm children continue to be — exposed to the subcultures that have partly defined us, including the restrictive fencelines of ownership, acreage, head count, education and political position.
We look to our cultural and subcultural leaders to represent us, and may be disillusioned when the outcome differs from our belief. Disapproving does not change the system — but good leadership might. And so we find buried deep in the soil of a diverse set of agricultural interests, those boys and girls, men and women who long to lead.
Where does one start?
Reference books on leadership would fill a country mile of shelving. They vary in approach from looking at a long litany of competencies to diluting leadership until it’s only some sort of management skill set.
Others vigorously list the key attributes of the individual or define the system in which they operate.
As I look at the stack on my desk, I ponder the value of a leadership that urges someone to conform, or that simplifies leadership and makes it just a set of measurable tasks and accomplishments. Regardless of the size of the farm, community, business or nation, the key is to lead in a way that inspires folks to be all that they can be.
Going back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs may seem oversimplified, but the pyramid reminds us that achieving one’s full potential or self-actualization is the ultimate goal.
As a leader, one aspires to foster an environment where the entire space is filled with persons who are joyfully creative and an inspiration to others. Certainly there is clarity of the tasks, processes and protocols but those are technicalities that can be designed and implemented.
A liberating environment preserves dignity and allows for all persons to feel secure.
It is the preservation of dignity, accepting that ourselves and all persons are worthy of respect, that requires a certain vulnerability in leadership that is based on the positive value of universal acceptance.
The route of discovery is long and littered with intense introspection and the painful observation of the emotional and mental processes that form our beliefs. That is not to say that we change our core values or what we believe, but we enhance them by building in acceptance of all people, places and things as a universal right of the others around us to exist.
It is a big shift, and for myself, even after nearly a decade of recovery from near death caused by septic shock, I thought I had it right as I healed slowly from within. What ultimately changed me as a person was my recent letting go of the strength I felt I needed to have, and the view that I had to be, well, be right, be top of the class, be pretty, be a supermom, be liked, be smart, be present, be solid and “become” somebody or something.
As a dear friend told me “I always knew you but now I know the vulnerable you, the real you.” I was shocked and liberated at the same time.
In the regular context of vulnerability, the person is considered weak and even an easy target but in the context of leadership, vulnerability means that one is capable of leaning in and being openly human. It is the new strong and the new courage.
Consider the intellectual and political strength of a great leader such as Nelson Mandela who stood “as a humble servant” and spoke of leading with “morality, integrity and consistency” but even more importantly showed his acceptance of those who kept him captive as part of the journey.
He understood that in some unknown way there was an interconnection between the present and the future.
Just as events in life are not always by chance, neither is leadership. It takes a discipline that calls for a self-reckoning clothed in a deep vulnerability. It takes servitude.
What is so intriguing is that we can lead from this position and indeed, those leaders who made positive change in the world always do. They do so because they understand the complexity of accomplishment and the importance of preserving dignity. They understand that it is more than just work and technique and talent, and that it is also the fueling of the spirit that keeps the fire fueled.
As I continue my graduate studies in global leadership at Royal Roads University and complete my United Nations certification courses I consider if the term leader is relevant because it indicates a singular power.
In reality, leading is the empowering and assisting of others while being responsible for the outcome. It takes a strong sense of self and an ability to have insight into the perspectives of others. No pedestal required.
If, as Dr. Brown suggests, “connections are why we are here” then that puts a new spin on the term “leader.”
It brings us back to our fundamental need to belong to a family, community, country, club or movement that aligns with our core values and beliefs and is accepting of our characteristics. And, it means that acting on those beliefs while preserving dignity and in consideration of the views of others is a form of leadership.
A following that does not question the leader is not a connected, inspired and creative group of people. Besides, sole ideology often leads to frustration, civil unrest or even hate. To fill our cup with meaning and purpose is the interaction with others and the ability to become vulnerable enough to be in that space.
The textbooks on my desk are dwarfed by the inspirational stories that have a permanent place there. Stories of boys and girls, of men and women who have led with their hearts, been vulnerable enough to tell their truths, inspired those around them, and owned their journey.
My joy and purpose comes from these pages and the daily connections I have with persons around the world.