Lessons From the Trenches

I’ve just passed a bittersweet junction in my life—a time when one door opens, and another closes gently behind me. Reflection is a natural emotion at these junctions we all experience; reflection on the blessings, the challenges and the continuing opportunities that exist in the place you’ve been. The realization dawns that you’re proud of what the team you were on accomplished, that you’ve done your best to leave things better than you found them, and next, a growing excitement that comes with passing a baton along to a fresh leader, who will offer perspectives, skills and experience that you could never offer.

Here are some lessons that I attribute to my 13 years in, and around, the Beef Checkoff Program. Take them as one person’s experiences, and do with them what you will.

  • Listen, listen, listen. To stakeholders, staffers, your best friends and your worst critics. Listen especially carefully when you’re angry or frustrated or tired or at the end of your rope or you believe the other person is dead wrong. Everyone has something to teach you. Yes, even THAT guy!
  • Transparent communication builds trust…and can fix seemingly “too far gone” situations. Countless times over the past years, common ground found through open ears and open hearts has resulted in tremendous success when things seemed hopeless.
  • Everything takes longer than you think it will. At least it always takes longer than I wish it would! Tolstoy said the two most powerful warriors are patience and time. Take full advantage of both.
  • One bite at a time. It’s the only way to eat an elephant. Steady steps lead to great success if you’re patient and stick to the vision and plan.
  • A board’s best focus is on the forest. Hire and trust competent experts to plant and nurture the trees.
  • Stay in your lane. Everyone can’t be the head coach, or even the quarterback. Know what your role in the big picture is, at any given minute, and do the best you possibly can to contribute. This goes for both the people, and the organizations, involved in the program.
  • Nobody’s role is more important than another. Each is a critical part of a strong whole. If you believe you’re more important than the guy sitting in the back of the room, please refer to the first point.
  • Tell the truth. My mom assured me it’s the only way to remember what you said the last time.
  • Ethical leadership is tough. So is standing up to misinformation, and outright lies. Especially when your face is approximately five inches from a red-faced man three times your size! Be strong and do the right thing. Grow thick skin. When it’s over, the high (road) is worth the pain.

I wish every one of you the best, brightest future possible. Remember, there are only two letters of difference between beef and bean! I’m only a phone call away, working just down the road, for your partners in American agriculture. I trust you’ll take good care—of yourselves, your fellow cattlemen and women, and your Beef Checkoff Program.


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