Cultivating Leaders

Leadership at its Best gives growers and retailers the skills they need to advocate for agriculture more effectively.

What is the Syngenta Leadership at its Best℠ (LAIB) program?

Rex Martin
Rex Martin
Rex Martin, head of external relations, Syngenta, North America: Leadership at its Best is an advocacy program that we have operated alongside agricultural associations and commodity groups for more than 30 years. During the sessions, which are held at various times and locations across the country, program participants learn how to refine professional skills, such as public speaking, media outreach, association management, business etiquette and lobbying. They then take these skills back to their state and national organizations to become stronger leaders as well as better advocates for agriculture. Overall, LAIB gives them the quiet confidence to overcome the fears associated with speaking their minds and representing their organizations, even in some environments that may be considered hostile.

Why did Syngenta launch LAIB?

Martin: We first launched LAIB because we saw a need to help growers and other agricultural professionals more effectively talk to people about agriculture. After all, strong leaders not only benefit their organizations, but also all of agriculture as we tell our stories to legislators on Capitol Hill and to regulators at the Environmental Protection Agency or U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Can you cite any specific successes?

Martin: One success story that really stands out for me began at our first National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) Advanced Leadership Conference in 2010. Pam Johnson was part of that inaugural class and credits the experience with giving her the confidence to become the association’s

"If we don’t do a better job of explaining what we do and the safety precautions we take doing it, production agriculture, as it exists in the U.S. today, could cease. ... More than ever, it’s critical that we tell our own story."

Rex Martin
first female president two years later.

Another major milestone in the history of LAIB was the 2012 debut of a program geared specifically to ag retailers. Designed by the Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) and sponsored by Syngenta, the curriculum, which focuses on sharpening written and oral communications skills, gives participants a clear understanding of government relations, so that they can more effectively lobby policy issues on the industry’s behalf in a live-audience setting. The enthusiasm among our retailer partners and ARA leaders has been tremendous.

Why do you think leadership in agriculture is so important today?

Martin: The general public is so far removed from the farm, by several generations in many cases, that they don’t know where their food is grown. They don’t understand how highly regulated agriculture is and how hard it is to feed the world. If we don’t do a better job of explaining what we do and the safety precautions we take doing it, production agriculture, as it exists in the U.S. today, could cease. Those jobs may simply go to other countries. More than ever, it’s critical that we tell our own story. And this story is especially credible coming from growers and others who actually make their living on the land.

How will LAIB continue to grow in 2015 and beyond?

Martin: Throughout 2015, we’ll continue developing programs tailored to each participating organization’s specific needs. We also will have two new leadership programs in the very near future. Modeled after the NCGA
Colt Clemmons with Steve Powell
Colt Clemmons (left) with the American Soybean Association receives media training from Steve Powell with Solum Consulting during a Leadership at its Best conference in Greensboro, North Carolina.
program, we’re now co-sponsoring an advanced course with the American Soybean Association (ASA), so graduates of its Leadership Academy can take their skills to the next level and become transformational leaders in their national organizations. The first class in this two-part series already took place in January in San Antonio, Texas, where six ASA directors fine-tuned their skills at developing negotiation strategies, resolving conflict and building consensus. In the second session later this year, the program may cover topics, such as executive media training, issues management, association leadership, advocacy and crisis communications, depending on what ASA’s executive leadership determines is needed.

We’re also launching All-Star Leadership, another advanced training course in which several different agricultural organizations pick top leaders to go through the course together. This offering helps groups that may not have enough candidates to hold an advanced class on their own. Plus, participants get the added bonus of learning those skills with members of other organizations, which helps build camaraderie and partnerships for life.

How can readers learn more about LAIB?

Martin: They should contact their association or commodity group to find out more details. Each organization decides who goes to leadership conferences and academies. There’s usually a nomination process and an application requirement, but participation in the program is well worth the effort. It certainly is for Syngenta. We’ve invested thousands of dollars in LAIB over the past three decades to cover participants’ training, travel, lodging and meal expenses. I think it’s the best money Syngenta spends on behalf of our customers. Through LAIB, we build stronger advocates for agriculture and help teach critical life skills to men and women who have the experience, the talent and the will to lead our industry to an even brighter tomorrow.