March 1 2016 06:05 AM

Young farmers need opportunities to develop leadership skills.

We all know that dairy farmers wear many hats. I spent the last several days wearing my leader hat.

First, while finishing Phase III of the Young Dairy Leaders Institute.

Then as a voting delegate at my cooperative's annual meeting.

Young Dairy Leaders Institute

One of the topics that came up at the co-op's annual meeting was finding new leaders within the Gen X and Millennial generations.

It's a topic that has a complex answer. Leaders aren't born, they are made. So the focus shouldn't be on finding leaders, but on developing leaders.

When I look at what prepared me to run for a co-op delegate position, three things rise to the top of the list.

Opportunities to engage
Before my husband, Glen, and I had even bought our farm, our field representative invited us to participate in a member development program. Later, the marketing team asked our family to be part of a marketing campaign. We've also been asked to host farm tours on behalf of the co-op. These invitations got us involved in our cooperative and helped us develop a strong sense of connection.

This connection was coupled with a lifelong belief in the value of cooperatives. I grew up watching my dad's involvement in our local electric cooperative. The conversations we had about cooperative principles instilled in me the importance of cooperatives and grassroots governance.

Opportunities to grow
There are several programs that help young dairy farmers acquire the skills and knowledge necessary for leading a dairy organization: Holstein Foundation's Young Dairy Leaders Institute, NMPF's Young Cooperator Program, Farm Bureau's Young Farmers and Ranchers, and more. Many co-ops have their own young leader programs as well.

Taking part in these programs helped me learn about communication strategies, develop my leadership style, appreciate industry challenges, and understand global dairy economics. These programs reinforced what I was raised to believe: Every member's ideas and perspective are critical to an organization's success.

My cooperative helped make some of these opportunities possible. In other words, my co-op invested in me.

There is a leadership seedling inside everyone, but that seedling won't grow unless it gets plenty of water and sunshine. That's how Pete Kappelman, the chairman of my co-op's board, explained it.

Opportunities to network
We can learn from speakers and training, but some of the most valuable lessons are gleaned from the experiences of others. Networking and mentorship programs allow experienced leaders to share their wisdom with future leaders in conversational settings.

These same principles hold true for developing leaders in other organizations within the dairy community. Promotion boards, breed organizations, committees, and other groups can all benefit from engaging, investing in, and networking members.
Sadie Frericks blog footer
The author is a dairy farmer and writer from central Minnesota. She farms with her husband, Glen, and their three children. Sadie grew up on a dairy farm in northern Minnesota and graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in agricultural communications and marketing. She also blogs at Dairy Good Life.