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Corn+Soybean Digest

Ten Skills for Future Leaders

For young people with an eye on a future in farming or agribusiness, the question, “What does it take to be successful?” is worth pondering. While knowledge about crop production and marketing is essential, the abilities to adapt to change, understand the global economy and partner with others are going to be key for the next generation as well.

Dan McCarthy, who's been involved in leadership development for two decades, recently posted 10 skills he emphasizes for aspiring young leaders on his Great Leadership blog. McCarthy suggests that — no matter what industry you're in — these are traits to begin developing now in order to be ready to lead for the future.


    “We are already operating in a global economy; there's no such thing as a ‘domestic’ business or organization,” says McCarthy. He emphasizes that the world around us affects us all, and suggests: get a passport; travel; learn a second language; sell, trade or make something outside of your home country; study abroad; be the first volunteer for that expatriate assignment.


    Given the economy's current financial turmoil, McCarthy suggests that today's leaders might have been lacking in the basics of finance, accounting and economics. Or perhaps they delegated this unglamorous part of the job to the so-called experts? Either way, he says future leaders need to get out their calculators and learn how to use them again.


    Character trumps skills every time, and tomorrow's followers will demand integrity, trust, honesty, self-confidence and loyalty to principles from their leaders. They will also hold tomorrow's leaders accountable for these values, says this leadership guru.


    Web 2.0, 3.0, 4.0 and other emerging technologies bring new opportunities to market, sell, communicate, network, partner, innovate, solve problems and lead change. Stay on top of new technologies, experiment and participate — even if there's no apparent practical application, he advises.


    The ability to learn and recover from setbacks has always been the key differentiator between successful and average performers, says McCarthy. Leaders will need to take risks, be willing to fail, admit their mistakes, learn and move on. Start doing this now. “Don't become paralyzed by mistakes; you're going to make a lot of them,” he suggests.


    The leader of the future won't be able to do it alone. Leaders will need to recruit and develop strong, diverse teams and be willing to give power away, believes McCarthy.


    Change will become the norm, McCarthy anticipates, saying, “We can safely assume that the waves of change will keep coming at us, faster and bigger, with tsunami-like intensity, so leaders are going to have to learn to ride those waves and lead change like never before.”


    A key challenge for leaders of the future will be information overload, McCarthy says. He says being able to filter and prioritize what's important, as well as what's real, and find meaning in all of that data will be critical.


    Formal education can't stop after graduate school. Leaders will need to devote at least 20% of their time to studying, and then be able to incorporate what they've learned to continually reinvent themselves, according to McCarthy.


    Leaders will need to be able to reach out, collaborate, build coalitions and put their own self-interest aside for the greater good of the organization. The old rules of “winner takes all” negotiation no longer work. Leaders will need to master listening, empathy and the ability to come up with creative win-win solutions.

For more thoughts on leadership visit McCarthy's blog at

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