“Leaders don’t force people to follow, they invite them on a journey.” – anonymous
In the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, I received a card with this quote on it in the mail yesterday. As the director of a leadership program, it is exciting to think about inviting others on a journey – one of self-discovery, exploration of place and topic, and deepened sense of connectivity with those we lead and serve with. And, of course, there is the reciprocal journey I am on as I observe those in each program cycle interact with others in our path of learning and absorb all they they have to teach me as well.
During this application window for the fifth cohort of VALOR fellows, it is a good time to stop and take stock of what has been accomplished in the first four classes over the past eight years. Perhaps I feel particularly pensive on what is my last official day of quarantine after our recent international seminar was cut drastically short when borders closed and CDC classifications changed during the night, but slowing down long enough to write about the deep impacts of this program is something I have been longing to do for a while. The quote above was on a letter sent by a graduate of a previous VALOR class. His reflection on life impacts as a result of participating, the person he is now as compared to before, the way he approaches life and business and leadership, all caused me to take pause. To know that I might have had some small role to play in the larger personal journey he has been on is humbling. Yet acknowledging the cumulative impact of multiple small roles over the lives of dozens of fellows has had resounding impact on my own journey. Maturity of insight, a deepened awareness of time and place, and understanding aspects of the human condition have all resulted from managing group dynamics across cohorts and ever-changing issues of the industry we work in and support.
Truly engaged leadership is the output – something that is fine-tuned enough to be reactionary in both moments of societal crisis and more subtle and intuitive situations.
At a time when agriculture is instrumental in putting food back into depleted grocery stores and providing so many with basic needs in a time of uncertainty, it is an honor to be associated with a program that focuses on dynamic leadership for one of our largest industries across the country. Farmers and producers are in the background, sight unseen, for the majority of society. They also help to meet the basic physiological needs of those that serve our communities in forms of service, education, and business.
This coronavirus journey we are all on is teaching us in real time about how interconnected and dependent we really are. Social distancing has heightened connectedness in profound ways – and may allow us to co-lead each other on a journey of greater appreciation for one another in the end.
I encourage you to take some time to share with others what they mean to you, how they have impacted you, and what you appreciate about the fact that your life paths crossed. Even years later, it has tremendous impact. So ready your pens and the dusty stationary that haven’t been used in a while, or even they keyboard you are working with now, and connect. We never know when reaching out will deeply impact someone, but can rest assured that lost opportunities to do so are just that.