Leadership Learnings from the Advancing Women in Agriculture Conference

Photo Credit: Debra Murphy, 2014
Photo Credit: Debra Murphy, 2014

Photo Credit: Debra Murphy, 2014

I’ve learned a few things about myself as my career in agriculture media has evolved — I thrive on face-to-face interaction, retain more information if I discuss a topic with someone else (or re-write notes) and that the more I learn about farming and the agriculture industry the more I feel there is to know and the more I want to learn it. The combination of these things means that a conference like the inaugural Advancing Women — Leadership in Agriculture conference, held this week in Calgary, has left my brain full to bursting.

In my role with Real Agriculture, I attend many conferences. All have value, but often in different ways — I may learn about current research findings in agronomy, or take in a market outlook for the global pulse trade or, conversely, some conferences are just really big reunions, where I spend most of my time catching up with farmer friends I haven’t seen in a year.

But this conference was very different. This conference was a combination of all the things I love about my job, plus a tidal wave of top-notch speakers who offered their perspective on several aspects of professional development. From goal setting and over-coming challenges, through networking and communication tips, to the value of both personal and professional financial literacy. In short, instead of just covering the conference, I was participating in an event that was challenging me on a much broader scale. I’ve come home with a head full of ideas and goals and fire in my belly.

Now the tough part begins. How do I integrate a day of learning and inspiration into meaningful change in my career and personal life? After all, that’s the goal of any professional development exercise, is it not? Step one is sharing some of the things I learned — the beauty of the day was that yes, it was a conference full of women, but the subject matter is universal, thus, here is my list for all of you:

  1. JoAnne Buth, former president of the Canola Council of Canada and current Canadian senator, shared her wonderfully-meandering career path and some of the wisdom she’s gained along the way. She related that aspects of professional conduct are in her nature, but that choosing words carefully, being a thoughtful listener and learning to deal with opposing personalities are learned skills. It’s imperative to be willing to modify your behaviour to effectively manage people. She related a story of feeling the pressure to always be “on” and feeling like she was always on stage. Her mentor replied, You are always on stage, conduct yourself a accordingly. I’m not self-absorbed enough to imagine she was talking directly to me, but her words hit home, let me tell you. I’m not known for being quiet or keeping opinions to myself. I could learn to zip it now and again and listen more.
  2. On the subject of networking, Courtenay Wolfe, former CEO of Salida Capital, shared the importance of saying yes to other people’s requests, asking for what you want no matter how out-there it may seem (if you don’t ask, the answer is always no), and following through. Wolfe stressed the importance of doing what you say you will do. Most people don’t. People will remember you and be primed to also reciprocate, perhaps not directly with you, but with those they interact with. And what goes around comes around. Say yes, follow through and put yourself out there — you never know what amazing things may come your way through a chance meeting.
  3. Endeavor to learn new things about yourself. Angela Santiago, CEO of the Little Potato Company, based near Edmonton, never intended to even work in agriculture, let alone head up a successful primary-production-based company. She had several great insights into professional growth and the value of outside perspective on farm management decisions (I’ll post my interview with her shortly), but her personal story of the importance of challenging yourself and learning about yourself continually struck a chord with me. I’m quite honest, I think, with my strengths and weaknesses but Angela’s insight has encouraged me to find ways to stretch my boundaries a bit more — keeping within my personal values and ideals, of course.
  4. Have goals, share them wisely and don’t get bogged down by the details. Eventually, yes, you’ll have to outline achievable and measurable steps to reach your goal, but you may not have all that figured out from the outset and that’s OK. If we all did, we’d have achieved everything by now, wouldn’t we? In other words, some goals may be very long-term or personal. Some may be very lofty and if you shared them widely, you may end up too discouraged by the negative feedback to pursue the goal. Finding the balance between asking for mentorship or coaching on goals while also protecting them from well-meaning but negative feedback will be a challenge.

I could go on, of course, but some of my take-home messages are for me only. It will be very interesting going forward to hear from other participants and what their take-home messages were, their action item list and whether or not they will now ALWAYS carry business cards.

 

Lyndsey Smith

Lyndsey Smith is a field editor for RealAgriculture. A self-proclaimed agnerd, Lyndsey is passionate about all things farming but is especially thrilled by agronomy and livestock production.

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8 Comments

Kelsey Banks

This is excellent Lyndsey! I’m so happy you were able to share some of what you learned with us that could not attend. You have officially made me realize that next year it is a MUST that I attend!

Reply
JoAnne Buth

Lyndsey – thanks for the shout out! I am glad you found my comments helpful. You are a maelstrom of energy and ideas – never change that!
I also enjoyed the conference and learned new things. The one take home for me is that I can have a goal, but don’t need to know how to get there. I will figure that out along the way. It was so rejuvenating to be around inspirational women.

Reply
Tiffany Koldingnes

Agreed – this is an excellent article! I wanted to attend, but couldn’t this year, but will definitely put it in my calender for next year!

Reply
Sarah [NurseLovesFarmer.com]

Thanks for the overview. I really wanted to go but busy during seeding it just wasn’t in the cards for me! If they do it again (which I hope they do!) I would request it be earlier in April 😉

Reply
Lyndsey Smith

That was my suggestion on the evaluation, Sarah! A week or even two earlier would have made it an easier decision for many on the farm. This year Easter likely played a role, but we’ll see what happens for next year. I also suggested more time for networking. Many great conversations got cut short by a tight timeline.

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Loralee Orr

Lyndsey,
Great synopsis! I have been to many conferences, but none quite like this one. The speaker line up was awesome as was the sharing of experiences between attendees. Onwards and upwards! Hope to see everyone back for 2015.

Reply
Kristina Schweitzer

For several years, I attended the Farm Womens Conference in Grande Prairie Alberta. It had us over the years, learning about many important meaningful topics as well as “How to Rope”, “Meeting the WOLF exoert”, “Irish Dancing”, ” Arts and Crafts” and many more interesting classes. Unfortunately it got cancelled the last few years. Thanks for the insight on this conference!!! I would love to attend.

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