Welcome to the weekly edition of The Ag Globe Trotter by Dr. Dave Kohl.
One of the questions that often comes from new agricultural lenders and young producers is, “How do I follow a legend?” In sports, there are many stories of challenges faced by new coaches following legends. One such legendary coach that I have interacted with over the years is Coach John Wooden of UCLA. Other sports legends include Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers, Don Shula of the Miami Dolphins, Casey Stengel of the New York Yankees and Mike Krzyzewski of Duke University. Their successors are often chastised when they cannot also achieve legendary success. Similar things often happen on farms and ranches.
My advice for following a legend includes a few simple snippets. One of my professors, who was a legendary educator at Cornell University, gave me some advice when I finished my doctorate degree. He said, “Do not be Dr. George Conneman, be Dave Kohl. Be comfortable in your own style. Success comes with many roadmaps if you know your vision, mission, goals and where you are headed.”
My second piece of advice is to surround yourself with good mentors. When I arrived at Virginia Tech, I attended and observed a number of award-winning teachers and educators in a wide range of subject matter. With each lecture, I was able to enumerate key points and customize them to my style. Later in my career, these individuals were instrumental as a sounding board for new and creative techniques that benefited our informal groups and interaction. The same can be said for observing best practices in the agriculture industry. Learning from legends can help you in the beginning of your career and along the journey.
Next, you must be a quick study of your business and job responsibilities such as understanding accounts or business operations. It is important to know individuals within the business that can be supportive or have the ability to assist you to excel in certain areas. Tom Murphy, one of my former coaches, and Ted Green, my vocational agriculture teacher, both emphasized that good relations with employees at all levels can get you a long way in life.
It often takes three to five years or, in some cases, up to a decade to carve out your own identity. Sometimes a little gray or some hair loss brings respect from within and outside the organization or business. In agriculture and rural areas, just like sports legends, memories sometimes require a long time to fade into the sunset. Carving out your place in your vocation or business takes time, understanding, patience and a little help from a good support network.
This article will be especially interesting for those of you who know any of the legends mentioned in this article.
Dr. Kohl is Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Finance and Small Business Management and Entrepreneurship in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Dr. Kohl has traveled over 8 million miles throughout his professional career and has conducted more than 6,000 workshops and seminars for agricultural groups such as bankers, Farm Credit, FSA and regulators, as well as producer and agribusiness groups. He has published four books and over 1,300 articles on financial and business-related topics in journals, extension and other popular publications.
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