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As organizations work to position themselves for continued growth and future success, many recognize that their efforts need to go beyond the strategic plan and embrace professional development for their current and future leaders – those who will be instrumental in managing the teams tasked with implementing the strategies and programs so carefully defined.
FCCS’ Leadership Development Programs (LDP I and LDP II) are designed to do just that: LDP I and LDP II support participants in strengthening their management capabilities and strategic thinking to become more effective leaders.
“Leadership isn’t something that comes to you simply because time passes,” says Byron Enix, CEO of American AgCredit. “It’s a craft and a skill that you have to exercise like a muscle. It needs to be practiced.”
Byron completed the LDP program in 2008 while serving as CFO; he was named CEO in 2013. “I believe LDP took me from the level of having the functional skills of management to developing the strategic skills of leading an organization and a board of directors. It also helped deepen my financial acumen, my understanding of how a business works, and soften skills around how to connect with a variety of people.”
Connecting with individuals within an organization is a key component of LDP, one appreciated by many Farm Credit leaders who see LDP as a springboard to career advancement.
“LDP taught me about myself and my decision-making and management tendencies, and improved my communication skills so I’m able to more effectively convey my thoughts and ideas to my team, fellow leaders and my CEO,” says Jolene Curtis, COO at Texas Farm Credit. “It gave me a much broader perspective and some experiences that really set me up to take on the COO role and become a more influential leader in our organization.”
Enhanced communication and change management skills are two benefits Peery Heldreth found in LDP. Named CEO of Farm Credit of the Virginias this past summer, he’s reforming the senior leadership team and leaning on his LDP learnings to do so. “A lot of the skills focus on how key communication is on any team, particularly during times of change,” he says. “As I’ve moved employees into new roles and changed their responsibilities, I also knew that I needed to ensure that the individuals being affected would understand the reasoning behind my decisions, and that takes communication.”
David Brown assumed the CEO position at Western AgCredit in August, and credits his participation in LDP for helping him get there. “I enrolled in LDP at our boards and prior CEO’s encouragement at the beginning of the CEO selection process,” David says. “It played an important role in my preparation for the selection process, helped me understand what the transition was going to be like if and when I was selected, and what changes I would need to make to be effective in this new role.”
He points to an LDP session focused on management transitions and recognizing things to both let go of and embrace as one moves through the levels of organizational leadership; in his case, letting go of the details that were essential in his previous role as COO, and embracing the strategic thinking required of a CEO. Systems development, group facilitation and situational leadership are other key LDP concepts that have become increasingly important in his new role.
Beyond the skills and insights delivered at LDP, all four of these executives point to the value of the networking across Farm Credit organizations enabled through the program.
“Of equal value to the broad and relevant content is the opportunity to develop relationships with leaders in other associations,” David says. “Many of us have worked in the same organization for long periods of time and we can get a little tunnel vision. It’s beneficial to see how other associations are approaching situations we have in common, and learn about solutions that maybe we hadn’t thought of that are working for them.”
“There are a lot of ideas out there we can glean from each other, even well after we receive our certificates,” says Peery. “I’m still in contact with people from LDP I, whom I reach out to when I know they have already worked through a similar issue.”
Jolene is equally enthusiastic about the network she’s built through her participation in LDP. “At least once a month I’ll reach out to someone in my network of colleagues and peers throughout the System to ask them how they’re addressing certain findings, responding to FCA requirements or marketing different programs to their customers,” she says.
All four of the organizations represented here have an ongoing commitment to sending employees to participate in LDP I and II.
“We’ve always seen the value in LDP, and pretty much always have someone in LDP I and LDP II, sometimes two groups,” says Byron. “We also manage to it differently – we talk to them ahead of time about what they’re going to experience, and then follow up after they’re back to hold them accountable.”
For Peery, anticipating a rash of retirements is an added incentive: “Our average tenure is between 10 and 12 years, so we realize we’re going to need a lot of leadership training in the years to come. As we develop the next generation of leaders, LDP will be a major part of that.”
For more information on the FCCS Leadership Development Program or other Leadership Development Resources, please go to https://www.fccservices.com/training/leadership-development.
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