But how do we know which skills should be developed in future leaders? What are the characteristics of a leader?

Gordon lynn
Consultant and Ag Writer / LEADER Consulting, LLC

In my recent research project, “What Brings People to Leadership Roles: A study of Agricultural Leaders,” 12 national beef industry leaders were interviewed to provide a perspective on leadership in the agricultural industry.

First, the study participants were asked to bring to mind leaders whom they were associated with and leaders whom they emulated.

Second, they were asked to describe the qualities and characteristics of these leaders. The end result offered insight into one component of the overall study – the identification of important leadership traits that best describe characteristics of individuals who are leaders.

A leader is someone with innate leadership abilities, described one study participant. They have the abilities and characteristics to make them stand out in a group or organization – characteristics that followers will follow.


These characteristics do not make them extraordinary, yet it is the overall combination of their character, mixed with the way they possess integrity, dedication and substance, that sets true leaders apart from others.

Leaders have personal charisma. This charisma includes an ability to articulate their thoughts, an understanding of the expectations of the leadership position bestowed upon them and an ability to build trust and support from industry peers.

Four characteristics associated with leadership were:

Listening and communicating effectively

Leaders have the ability to listen to a discussion, analyze it and then report back to the group what was discussed in a manner in which everyone in the room listens intently to what the leader has to say.

This, along with the ability of a leader to engage people and make them feel like what they have to say is important, is the most valuable trait described as a key characteristic for a leader.

Leaders are able to keep communication flowing both ways. Most often emphasized by the study participants was a leader’s ability to listen and listen intently.

Being a team player and motivator

A leader has the ability to bring people together. Leaders can accomplish this not only by being an excellent listener and communicator but also by possessing the ability to bring people together around a common issue.

They lead by example. They understand how to motivate others because they deliver their thoughts and the thoughts of the organization in a format people can relate to and understand.

They ensure input from their constituents to help the organization with final action or policy. They understand how to empower others to be active and assist with organization issues.

Displaying integrity and garnering respect

Leaders in agricultural organizations are selected by their peers and, as a result, must have the ability to garner respect from their peers.

They are someone who people will look up to, believe in and trust. Leaders that display and project integrity and honesty in their daily lives and organizational roles are noticeably respected by their peers.

Their peers are proud to have a person with these qualities be the face of the organization and industry. However, respect can be lost if leaders compromise their principles because they become caught up in the title or image of the position.

Being knowledgeable

Leaders must have a broad-based knowledge of all facets of the industry they represent, whether it is the beef cattle industry or another agricultural organization. Leaders bring something unique to the table.

It may be either their real knowledge or their exceptional passion for their role, but they unequivocally display personal charisma that draws followers.

Leaders are forward-thinkers with the ability to see the big picture and help guide their organization with the future in mind. They understand the importance of seeking solutions and have the ability to lead followers to make decisions.

Traits of an agricultural leader are enhanced by their strong willingness to serve their industry. Today’s youth and tomorrow’s future leaders can challenge themselves to be leaders who possess these characteristics positively associated with leadership.  end_mark


Lynn Gordon
Extension Field Specialist
South Dakota State University