Board Service Develops Leaders

September 28, 2018 12:00 PM
When to talk, who to include and what to discuss when tension is high

As a top operator, I suspect you agree that farming forward requires a totally different level of professionalism and an increasingly broad and yet deep understanding of the world. While politics might be local, our customers are global.

Interestingly, this is a contradiction that is difficult to manage. Going forward, farmers must be experts at negotiating with landowners (local) and understanding how to market commoditized crops (global). We must foster neighborhood relationships and the inherent challenges they present today (Own a hog farm or ever had any complaints that something drifted onto the neighbor’s garden? Definitely local.). We must advocate for agriculture with consumers around the world and at home—often in our own families—local and global!

While these nuanced skills are now necessary, they are not automatic. If you’re new in the operation and planning to sustain it, these skills must be part of your farming practice.

One way to gain valuable skills is to serve on a board of directors. What might have previously been considered time off or a reward, I now consider important to pursue as early as possible. Let’s look at the ways to use board service to develop and coach your next generation.

1. Enhance Your Local Reputation. A great resource for understanding board service is A recent blog post details that when you are selected to serve on a board, an organization entrusts you with a vital, high-impact role. It’s a public endorsement of your expertise and value.

2. Network Like a Boss. Want the opportunity to engage with influential leaders, connect with people you need to meet in order to stay informed? Would you like to cultivate new relationships? Find a board that serves an area or mission you are passionate about, but is not in agriculture.

3. Develop New Skills. I love what the Board Prospects blog says about sharpening your skill set. Active board members grow in critical areas such as leadership, collaboration and understanding strategy.

4. Uncover and Change Your Limiting Biases. Wall Street Journal writer, Jason Zweig, recently wrote a piece deigning how investors often overestimate themselves to their detriment, but I think his points fit perfectly for agriculture, too. “Behavioral economists say that confirmation bias leads most people to seek out evidence supporting what they already believe,” Zweig reports. He adds that without interactions in different realms beyond our norms, we can fall into “unconscious biases, or factors that shape our behavior below the level of awareness.” Top farmers of the future must think, hire and act differently. Self-awareness will be key.

5. Get Knocked Down a Rung or Two. Sure, we all think younger people are too confident because they don’t have the benefit of experience, but Zweig says this assumption applies to us all. “Behavioral economics teaches that people are overconfident: They believe they know more than they do, or they assume their knowledge is more precise than it is.” Ouch! That zinger applies to every one of us. If we stop learning and assume we know it all, we make big mistakes, and become really boring to be around!

Board service doesn’t have to be a paid position or something that threatens to become a time-consuming and full-time side job. However, to find ways to grow and develop, I believe board service roles should provide the opportunity to influence. Perhaps that is the most critical element of all.

Learn what skills farmers have learned by serving on boards for professional and community organizations at  

Sarah Beth Aubrey’s mission is to enhance success and profitability in agriculture by building capacity in people. She fosters that potential with executive coaching, facilitating peer groups and leading boards through change-based planning initiatives. Visit


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