Coincidence. Happenstance. Luck.

“Life is not a path of coincidence, happenstance or luck, but rather an unexplainable, meticulously charted course for one to touch the lives of others and make a difference in the world” 

– Barbara Dillinham 

I had never been one to believe in the idea of “destiny” until I came across this thought by Ms. Dillinham. This quote has hung in my home since I was in college. It’s been a constant reminder to me over the years that everything happens on time and on purpose. As I reflect, I can’t think of a more appropriate way to begin this blog introducing myself or my ideas on leadership than to share this as my starting thought. Hi, I’m Austin, and I’m excited to be a part of VALOR Class VI. My wife Jenna and I live in Fairfax County with our dog, Casserole, and have been Virginia residents for just over a year.

My journey in agriculture started twenty-two years ago when I first walked into an agriculture science course at Central High School in Fresno, CA. This was the first instance of “destiny” that I recall, because I was mistakenly placed in that class due to a scheduling error. I wasn’t supposed to be there. As a born and raised central Californian, I had been surrounded by agriculture my entire life, but I knew nothing about the industry and my family hadn’t been involved in agriculture for generations. Agricultural education and the FFA ignited and cultivated a passion for the industry, leadership development, and service that I couldn’t shake.

My career has always been focused on serving people, and building or improving systems that serve people. I spent five years in the high school classroom working as an agriculture teacher and FFA advisor, helping my students develop their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success. I spent a combined 11 years serving agricultural education and the FFA as a member of the Texas FFA and the National FFA staff. These opportunities brought about profound professional development and irreplaceable personal relationships that have propelled me to where I am today. Currently I work for the American Farm Bureau Federation as the Director of Membership and Organization Development. While no longer directly involved in agricultural education, my role at AFBF provides a unique opportunity for me to utilize my skills and passions to support farmers and ranchers, and develop strong organizations that build capacity in local communities across the country. 

As I think about my views on leadership, they can be summarized into a few thoughts:

  • Your ability to lead is directly correlated to your influence
  • Leadership development has to be intentional and holistic
  • Action without reflection is a waste of time

John Maxwell is a bestselling leadership author and coach who says “leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” Maxwell’s teachings are heavily ingrained in FFA leadership training, so this is a theory that I have prescribed too for quite some time. I know that my ability to be a leader within my profession and within agriculture is directly correlated to my ability to influence others. I am excited to expand my influence in Virginia and the agriculture industry through my participation in VALOR. 

While working for the National FFA Organization, I was introduced to the “70-20-10 Leadership Development” authored by the Center for Creative Leadership. This framework describes leadership development through three types of experiences in the following ratios:

  • 70% challenging experiences and assignments
  • 20% developmental relationships
  • 10% coursework and training

I am excited for the next two years as a VALOR Fellow, because it will provide intentional and holistic development. VALOR is set up in a similar way to help me and my fellow classmates develop as competent and capable leaders and advocates for agriculture in Virginia. 

I say often that “action without reflection is a waste of time.” Pausing to reflect allows for a leader to process information and move from simple comprehension to long-term retention. I’m looking forward to using this forum to be able to reflect on experiences, share my learning, and start discussions to help challenge my perspectives and assumptions. I hope you will hold me accountable to that!

Coincidence. Happenstance. Luck. All words that I would have used to describe my journey to where I am today, but in reality, it’s been a meticulously charted course to help me live to my fullest potential. I am thrilled for the next two years as a VALOR Fellow and the experiences that lie ahead. I’m excited to get to know my fellow classmates and learn from their unique perspectives and lived experiences. I hope to be able to live up to the incredible legacy of the VALOR program to serve agriculture in Virginia well.

Cheers to what’s to come!


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