Three LEAD Alum Extol Value of their Experiences

Three LEAD Alum Extol Value of their Experiences June 2, 2016

In the following columns three members of the Nebraska LEAD Class 34 discuss their participation in the two-year leadership development program, sharing insights into how it led them to grow personally and professionally. The first year consisted of six in-state seminars at different Nebraska sites and an 11-day national study seminar that took LEAD fellows to Kansas City, Washington D.C., and Chicago. The second year consisted of six more in-state seminars and a 15-day international seminar to Hungary, Romania, and Moldova. The LEAD 34 class graduated in March.

Each LEAD participant's story is different. What would your story look like? Applications are being accepted until June 15 for the next class, Group 36 of the Nebraska LEAD (Leadership Education/Action Development) program. Learn more about the program and how you can apply at Nebraska LEAD or in CropWatch.

The next Nebraska LEAD class is forming.
Apply by June 15.

Lance Atwater

Background: I'm a second generation farmer from Blue Hill growing corn, white corn, popcorn, soybeans, and wheat and raising a commercial cow/calf herd. I graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in December 2012 with a major in agricultural economics and a minor in international agriculture.

Lance Atwater
Lance Atwater

What I Learned: The LEAD program broadened my awareness of a variety of issues impacting agriculture, health care, the U.S. economy, rural communities, and other areas that we deal with daily. As we get older, it becomes easier to become set in our way of thinking and we can often forget to keep an open mind about how different problems impact others and their lives. The LEAD program reminded me that in order to solve problems that our communities, state, and nation face every day, we must keep an open mind to different perspectives to find solutions that better the lives of others.

The LEAD program also reminded me to not take for granted the things I have in my life as well as what we have here in our country, which is freedom.

The Value I Gained: Life is all about learning, no matter what your age is! The Nebraska LEAD Program is another opportunity for you to learn about issues facing you, your family, your industry and your community. It is an opportunity for you to spend time learning from speakers, but most importantly, an opportunity to learn from other fellows in your LEAD class. If you are wanting to better serve those around you, make the time to learn and grow yourself to be a better leader in your family, community, and industry. Life is always a learning opportunity. You just don't want to miss out on those opportunities to learn!

What Applicants Need to Know: Be ready to learn! Be ready to learn from speakers, from tours, and most importantly, be ready to learn from your fellow LEAD classmates. The Nebraska LEAD program will throw a lot of different things at you. Some things you may be familiar with while other things you may have never heard about. You will be pushed outside your comfort zone, but it will make you more confident in your leadership abilities. You will become a better problem solver and may even change your views on certain topics. Be ready to come into the program with an open mind and to learn about the issues, whether you agree with them or not. Take this opportunity to learn about issues that may not impact you as well as the opportunity to become more informed on the issues that do impact you!

Managing the Time Investment: While it can be tough to be away from family, friends, and work for nearly two months out of the two-year program, it is time well spent to grow and develop as a leader. You may have a hectic schedule, but don't miss out on this once in a lifetime opportunity to learn more about yourself, your passions, and grow your leadership skills.

Teri Zimmerman

Background: I live in Lincoln and manage education and outreach projects at the Nebraska Soybean Board. I am involved with our family farm near Odell, where we grow corn, soybeans, wheat, and alfalfa and raise a cow/calf herd.

Teri Zimmerman
Teri Zimmerman
What we Did: In February 2015, my class traveled to Kansas City, Washington D.C., and Chicago where we learned about many issues facing our nation. A few of the topics included transportation, banking, regulation, marketing, education, and hunger—all in regard to agriculture and the role it plays.

In January 2016, LEAD 34 departed Nebraska for our international journey to Hungary, Romania, and Moldova. As you might expect, the countries we visited were much different than the United States. Daily food cuisines, housing, and governmental history are just a few of the differences that set the U.S. apart from the three European countries. However, in many ways, the issues that citizens of Eastern Europe face are similar to the issues here in the U.S. For instance, the aging farmer population and efforts to interest young people in continuing an agricultural lifestyle is a similar issue for both of us. Other similar issues include marketing agricultural products, connecting and communicating with consumers, and working with governmental authorities on regulations and technology.

What I Learned: Three key LEAD topics that benefited me and my career in communication and farming were diversity, resources, and leadership skills. Diversity surrounds us in our daily lives, whether in our schools, our communities, or careers. Through LEAD we learned about the diversity of our state, nation, and world, specifically addressing climate, crops, resources, culture, and attitudes. Resources are vital to any operation, but in agriculture, many of the essential resources such as water, soil, land, and human workforce are limited. Through LEAD and our individual experiences in our own operations, agriculture has a task before it to learn how to deal with the limitations of resources for growing food for future generations and populations. Finally, leadership is the basis for the Nebraska LEAD Program. Throughout the two years, each seminar focused on providing information, contacts, and development for participants to gain skills to be more involved and effective leaders. The seminars also emphasized communication development and introduced diverse avenues for LEAD fellows to use their skills.

The Value I Gained: The resources and contacts of the Nebraska LEAD Program are never ending! I’ve met so many people that have a connection to LEAD, even in places you’d never expect.

Managing the Time Investment: The program is a two-year commitment, but it will go so fast. There are six seminars each year, one of which is a 10-day seminar. It does take communication with family and a support system at home/work during the two years. Having a “Plan A” and “Plan B” in place is a great idea before leaving home for a seminar.

Mat Habrock

Background: I grew up on a farm near Emerson and graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a major in agribusiness and an emphasis in political science. I recently moved to the Nebraska Department of Agriculture to serve as assistant director. Previously I had worked in industry relations and communications at DuPont Pioneer.
Mat Habrock
Mat Habrock

What I Learned: The in-state seminars really helped us see the scope of Nebraska agriculture, exploring the many ways the crop and livestock industries and other components of Nebraska’s ag industry are different but interconnected. We toured educational institutions and learned about the tremendous educational opportunities that exist in Nebraska. Our trip to Washington D.C., Chicago, and Kansas City gave me a deeper understanding of the broader economic and industry issues facing US agriculture, as well as societal issues in urban settings. We visited with policy makers, elected officials, and national ag industry leaders. In Chicago we visited a high school focusing on ag education through a relationship established by previous LEAD class and several from our class donated calves that the youth could raise.

During our international trip we learned about agriculture in these eastern European countries and visited industry and government officials adapting to a more democratic form of government. Many of those we talked with were frustrated, had little trust in their government, and were seeking hope and inspiration for how their new democratic structure could support their goals. The trip left us with a deeper understanding of their challenges as well as a deeper appreciation for our situation.

Our in-state seminars focused on Nebraska agriculture and issues. We dove into water topics, learning about the different types of water use across the state as well as the resulting issues from competing uses of a limited resource. We also discussed complex societal issues and the many opportunities we have as leaders to be influential, aiding those who are less fortunate

My LEAD experience helped prepare me for the job I have today and inspired me to work for an organization that represents farmers and ranchers directly.  A major take-away for me was: “Leaders have to lead." I have the skills and abilities to make a difference and it really inspired me to want to do that.

The Value I Gained:One of best results of participating in LEAD is the network you develop. I have formed some of the most amazing friendships with the other 29 members of the LEAD class, people you want to bounce ideas off, people who challenge you to think differently and thoroughly. I also met many people from earlier classes with expertise and a willingness to share what they've learned. 

Managing the Time Investment: It's a major time commitment, but it's worth it. I was very fortunate to have the support of my employer and family to make it all work.