The list is overwhelming but offers many thought-provoking reads by some of the industry’s most-sought-after leadership experts.

Gordon lynn
Consultant and Ag Writer / LEADER Consulting, LLC

These experts discuss topics such as: Who is a leader? What makes a great leader? How to be a leader?

However, one element missing in these leadership books is the focus on leaders in agriculture. Yes, we can all learn from opportunities outside our industry and considerable personal growth is obtained in doing so; however, have you ever wondered what your peers in agriculture think about leadership and becoming a leader?

Twelve national beef industry leaders shared their insight on the roles and responsibilities of an agricultural industry leader, and the results were the basis of my doctoral research.

The study, called “What Brings People to Leadership Roles: A Study of Beef Industry Leaders,” set out to gain an awareness about grassroots volunteer industry leaders – such as those we would find in the beef industry. This article will share some of the highlights from my research.


In the business world, employees assume positions of leadership and are considered leaders because of the professional position or rank they hold within a company or corporation.

But in agriculture, beef producers earn their way to leadership. Grassroots volunteer beef leaders earn their position on boards and within associations because of their willingness to serve and by earning respect and support from their peers.

The study participants, who represented all segments of beef production, emphasized you can’t be a leader if you don’t show up.

You can’t have a say in the future of your industry if your voice is not heard, and these leaders clearly realized this as they started to get active in their local, state and national beef organizations.

In fact, several of them remember hearing the statement made by a fellow beef industry leader – “the world is run by those who show up.”

What else did these 12 beef leaders share about their rise to leadership roles? First, they focused on their willingness to serve their industry and, second, they served because of their commitment to the industry.

Willingness to serve

Universally, they demonstrated a willingness to be involved. As a result of their presence at meetings and events, their visibility was noticed and soon their willingness to take part and help out the organization was recognized by fellow association members.

They began filling roles as committee chairs, serving on a board or leading a special event.

“You have to be willing to put in the time and have the attitude of wanting to be involved,” stated one beef industry leader.

The participants agreed their willingness to be active and become more visible demonstrated the value they placed on being advocates for the organization. Their roles consisted of building membership, being vocal and positive about the industry and working to bring people together and empowering others.

Unanimously, it was a natural progression rather than a chartered roadmap that carried these leaders to serve in a leadership capacity on national beef industry boards and associations.

None of the leaders interviewed set out to be leaders, but they look back now and see the progression and process they stepped through.

As the stepping-stone process occurred, more doors opened and the leaders were challenged with new experiences which extended their involvement. “As opportunities arise and you see yourself being able to give something to that issue or position, you step forward,” one study participant recalled.

Commitment to industry

Instead of how leaders are often identified in the business world, grassroots agricultural producers volunteer their time to serve.

Asked why they got involved, the answer was straightforward – because they want to give back to the industry and support its future. “When it’s an industry you believe in, you don’t mind devoting time,” said one participant proudly.

Pride for their industry, for future generations in agriculture, for their families and communities and for their role in producing safe, wholesome food energized these volunteers to devote time away from their daily farming or ranching business.

They don’t discount those who at certain times, due to family or business commitments, are unable to dedicate extra time to serve their industry – but they understand that if you have the ability and opportunity to leave your base operation, serving your industry is extremely rewarding.

Humbled to call themselves leaders, these 12 beef producers filled roles during critical times which have faced the beef industry, from the BSE crises and economic challenges to today’s volatile industry with ever-changing global issues and domestic policies.

If you have the opportunity to read a book on leadership, you will surely gain an abundance of new ideas – but ask a beef industry leader about his or her rise to leadership and you will also learn about the vision and devotion of an agricultural industry volunteer.

And if you have the opportunity to get more involved – embrace the challenge. Like these leaders, you will feel the pride of knowing you made a difference serving your industry.  end_mark


Today’s leaders within the beef industry usually volunteer on board assignments and special events from a desire to advocate and defend ag production. Photo by Progressive Cattleman staff.


B. Lynn Gordon
Extension Field Specialist
South Dakota State University