If you wore blue and gold corduroy, you likely understand intense feelings that have transcended two decades. March 1989 is a month I remember clearly, even if 20 years have gone by in a blink of an eye. The Municipal Auditorium at Michigan State University had a distinct fervor of excitement, anticipation and apprehension. You see, it was the place where our State FFA Officer team led the Michigan FFA Convention. I recall the thrill of dashing up the aisles during opening ceremonies, rocking the house with a couple of thousand screaming FFA members and working with a group of people who still hold a special place in my heart today.
Taking a look in the rear view mirror, the leadership lessons from FFA have become clearer. There are 13 in honor of our odd-numbered officer team.
- Follow your passion. It’s the single most valuable life rule FFA taught me. Expect to be bored, unhappy or unsatisfied if you don’t.
- Leadership is influence. John Maxwell said it; I learned it the hard way. Leadership is not she who speaks the most eloquently, he with the most friends – it’s about moving people in a singular direction. If you can’t successfully influence others, you can’t lead – regardless of the title on your business card.
- Persevere. Success doesn’t come without great amounts of failure and re-starts. Grow by learning from it and moving on.
- Know you’ll fail. Teenage angst brought on by lost regional FFA presidencies and numerous chapter offices seem small as compared to losing more important parts of life, such as our farm. Maintain perspective.
- It really is about who you know. Connections, properly leveraged, can make or break you. Working for the National FFA Foundation allowed me to further serve FFA, but also gave me the very valuable lesson of connecting and helping people up and down the ranks. People will forget what you say, but not the way you make them feel when you help them.
- Speaking loudly leads to deaf ears. And that’s from a professional speaker! Listening louder is a mark of true leadership.
- Teamwork can bring out the best and worst in people. If you’ve ever worked with a group of people, you don’t need any more insight. If you haven’t, may I suggest you try doing so? Accept that everyone isn’t going to get along all of the time.
- Service generates far greater revenue than the hours you invest. Many times over. If you doubt it, try serving others.
- Hard work is necessary. Don’t expect to get anywhere without it. Know that many outside of agriculture don’t have that same work ethic – and use it to your advantage. Refer to point #3.
- Touch lives – and help others do so. Our state officer team turned into educators, dads, industry leaders, school administrators, moms and blue collar workers. When I consider the thousands of lives touched by the 13 people from our team, it is humbling. How often have you stepped back to consider the lives you have touched?
- No risk, no reward. Don’t do what’s easiest or the most comfortable – stretch a little and take advantage of circumstances rather than letting them take advantage of you.
- Create an inner circle of support. Life is hard. You’re human. You need other humans to help support you. Surround yourself with those who will hold your heart in their hands and be sure you do the same for them. Cherish your time with those people.
- Be yourself. It’s up to you whether you use the gifts you were given, particularly when pressured to conform to others’ expectations.
Returning to the stage of the Municipal Auditorium to celebrate our 20th anniversary made it pretty clear how quickly time passes. It was inspiring to find the FFA spirit still alive and rekindle the thrill of working with FFA members from my home state. I thank the team I had the privilege of serving with, the members of yesterday and tomorrow, and the wonderful industry of agriculture that benefits from the leadership development of FFA.