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Mackenzie Wortham
Posted by Mackenzie WorthamMarch 29, 2018 6:23 PM

Teddy Roosevelt once said that “nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain and difficulty,” and that certainly rings true for leadership.


That could be why there are endless books, TED talks and podcasts on being a leader, but reading and listening to those doesn’t actually make leading any easier. You have to throw yourself into the ring and push yourself to lead, and that’s what The Center for Growing Talent by PMA’s Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) is designed to help you start doing. I have the privilege to participate in the ELP for 2018 and I attended the first on-campus portion earlier this month. While it was certainly a challenging week, it was also incredibly rewarding and worthwhile.


If you’re unfamiliar with ELP, it’s a multifaceted program that includes a four-day component on campus at the University of Arizona in early March, online learning modules through the summer and a capstone course at the PMA Fresh Summit Expo. Participants are recruited from across the fresh produce and floral industry and spend the first four days of the program immersed in provocative dialogues and challenging leadership scenarios that simulate our industry.


I’d like to share 6 standout lessons I brought home from the on campus portion of the program:


Financial acumen is essential to making better decisions for your company.

There is a significant focus on the financial aspect of business throughout the ELP and for a good reason; leaders certainly need to understand what makes money for the business so that they can lead in better decision making. During the program we took a deep dive into how we can look at financial documents to make decisions and we were challenged to think through ways to spend money on things that will align with our company strategy and generate profit. Through conversations I had with my ELP peers, I gathered that financial acumen was the area many of us feel most vulnerable going into the program. While I think hands-on practice back home will be essential, we certainly walked away with ideas to get more inquisitive about our company’s finances and how we can directly contribute.


Everyone has “derailers” – but not everyone is aware of them.

Prior to arriving on campus, each participant took the Hogan Derailers assessment to learn more about the qualities that can “derail” each of us and get in the way of our success when left unchecked. While none of us believe that anyone is perfect, it was eye-opening to see all the different derailers that each of us individually struggle with. The biggest takeaway, however, is that leaders set themselves apart by becoming more self-aware of when they are derailing. Openly discussing our derailers with each other was a huge first step toward a heightened level of self-awareness that will lead to better leadership.


Leadership is a journey and comes in stages.

There are many layers to leadership, and one of the sessions that I found most interesting focused on the stages of thinking one must go through on their way to becoming a leader. While many of us begin with a tactical mindset, we must grow beyond black and white thinking and embrace paradoxical thoughts to turn the dial for our organizations and the industry at large. Sometimes we may back track to a previous stage of leadership when we are under pressure or being “derailed,” so leaders must continually check themselves, seek contrary opinions and remain self-aware as they make decisions.


Forward-thinking and an ability to see the “big picture” sets leaders apart.

One of the biggest challenges we faced during the on campus program was during the “simulation.” We were broken into 5 teams and challenged to make strategic and financial decisions for a grower and present our progress after “3 years” to a “Board of Directors,” as if in real life. This challenge brought the importance of forward-thinking to the forefront. Making decisions in a “here and now” mindset could work in the short term, but to effectively lead the business down a strategic path we had to consider the bigger picture and where we wanted the company to be 10 years from now.


You can’t effectively lead unless you’re willing to get uncomfortable.

At the start of the program, Alicia Calhoun with the Center for Growing Talent emphasized that we were only going to get out of the program what we put into it. Most of us found that you had to push yourself out of your comfort zone through networking, asking questions and overall being vulnerable enough to openly discuss your weaknesses. It’s not easy getting that open with a group of people you’ve just met, but leadership itself isn’t ever meant to be comfortable either. Leaders have to push themselves to be in a constant state of vulnerability if they're going to grow themselves and their organizations.


The produce industry has an incredible future ahead.

One of the biggest benefits of the program included the amazing connections made with a group of incredibly talented and intelligent individuals. As a marketer, the simulation itself gave me a huge appreciation for every role along the supply chain and for what the growers and retailers in the room face each day they go to work. I walked away with a great deal of excitement for the future of our industry, because if any of the people sitting in that room have anything to do with it, we’re in great hands!

Our ELP journey will continue over the next several months with online course work and a capstone course at PMA Fresh Summit in October. After the program is complete, I hope to share more learnings but until then, I hope to see you in Orlando!


Are you interested in applying or nominating someone for the 2019 ELP? Be sure to contact Alicia Calhoun and let her know you are interested.

Topics: Career Development & Leadership, Fresh Produce Industry

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