Leadership qualities can be innate – but can also be fostered in the right environment. For the future prosperity of New Zealand agriculture, a collaborative approach that identifies and develops a wide range of leaders will be vital.
Leaders are creative people. They create visions that inspire others. They identify goals and establish credible strategies. They enable others to put their skills and energies towards common goals.
Most importantly, they know that the buck stops with them, so they work tirelessly to ensure that the chances of anything going wrong are minimised.
We know this because leaders are the subject of considerable research. Google the term and over 500 million results will appear.
Questions still remain, however. With apologies to the Bard: are leaders born great, do they achieve greatness or is greatness thrust upon them?
Research published in the journal Science showed that first-born children tend to have a slightly higher IQ (2.3 points) than their siblings, and a survey by Vistage (the world’s largest CEO organisation) revealed that 43 percent of 1,582 responding CEOs were born first (23 percent were born last). A smaller survey by USA Today found 59% of CEOs were eldest children. The results together suggest that where you are in the family does have a part to play. The IQ results were interpreted as leading to better opportunities for the eldest in education and jobs. The study also suggested a greater tendency to strive; the simple expectation that you will set an example for the younger children, and assist them in their development, leads to certain behaviours that can be parlayed quite nicely into leadership roles.
Birth order is uncontrollable. But achieving leadership is a more deliberate possibility, and how to develop it is a New Zealand concern. That’s to say, how to develop real leaders is a concern, rather than the apparently huge number that are convinced they’re on a fast-track to management (over two thirds of Generation Y members, according to Peter Sheahan, author of Generation Y, thriving and surviving with generation Y at work, and a Y-gen himself).
The first challenge for the old(er) guard within any industry is to identify those with real potential.
In a class of students, or in the work place, there are always some people that stand out. They are the ones who take time to think, gather information and question. Sometimes they genuinely don’t understand, but other times they want others to hear the answer. These are the people who suggest solutions, or want to debate different approaches. They look for ways to assist, and deal with problems. They also encourage others to do better, to think more, and think differently. They aren’t always easy to work with, but they are usually rewarding: they take opportunities presented to challenge themselves, and they create opportunities for others.
The types of characteristics found in spades in notable leaders like Jack Welch, Shimon Peres and Peter Drucker include a keen intellect, strategic thinking and operational planning, the ability to act decisively, a high emotional quotient, verbal eloquence, curiosity, memory, courage, ethics and integrity. These factors apply to any sector.
In New Zealand the pioneer heritage has created people who are highly individual and driven by autonomy. But despite being highly entrepreneurial, New Zealanders are damned by the Tall Poppy Syndrome.
And TPS undoubtedly makes it much harder for our leaders-in-waiting to reveal themselves.
In agriculture, the answer - at least in part – is having a common goal. If we are all working towards the same point, tall poppies will be less at risk.
The majority of agribusiness leaders interviewed for the KPMG Agribusiness Agenda 2012 support the development of a pan-industry strategy, reflecting the overall belief that everybody generally does better when people work together. An Agrifood Strategy is the ultimate vision, but getting there will require a greater level of collaboration than we’ve seen in the past.
There are some examples already - the Government’s Primary Growth Partnership, and the CEO Bootcamp for Agri-leaders (in partnership with Stanford University), just two. As the industry evolves, there will be more.
With a vision and a goal already in discussion, and a strategy being developed, the next step is to ensure succession planning by hot-housing the young leaders into positions of responsibility – so that they achieve leadership rather than having it thrust upon them.
Birth order is difficult to change, but leadership can be developed, and it should be. With current leaders of agri-business companies working towards a common strategy and vision, a clear statement about the aspirations of the sector will be possible. Articulation of the vision, clearly communicating that it will provide talented people with challenging international careers in science, business and marketing – and, indeed, that they are part of the strategy – will result in increased understanding of the importance of the primary sector in New Zealand.
And that, with apologies to Shakespeare, is a future devoutly to be wish’d.