I was asked to write about reflections on my time as a member of the UGA CAES Alumni Association Board, some lessons learned, and other bits of helpful wisdom. I earned a Masters of Ag Leadership from CAES in 2014. I learned some of the most beneficial leadership theories during my time at UGA; especially management versus leadership. I had long confused the two, but comparing and contrasting them for 6 pages makes you really stop and think, especially when you are working remotely on a group project PRE-ZOOM. Understanding that management is not leadership and vice versa is for your own sanity. Please do not confuse the word leadership with management. You are not, nor should you be, expected to do all the things. Part of being a great leader is identifying strength of the people on your team. Empower them to take on passion projects, emphasize their strengths, and identify where your team shines. This will lighten the load for everyone, but especially for you as a leader. After all many hands make light work.

I also want to give you some of the most practical leadership lessons that I have garnered from my own time in the ag industry. 

First and foremost, surround yourself with other strong leaders. Notice I said surround and not just follow. It is important for you to recognize the leadership traits within others from a management position as well as those that may report to you. Leadership can be demonstrated from the head of the pack as well as the back of the line. Take time to understand that sometimes the best leadership is not demonstrated from the top down. By taking a full 360° approach to understanding how to better serve your team as well as others in your community, you get a better experience and a more comprehensive leadership style. 

I have found that sometimes the best leaders I have had in my career are those that demonstrated servant leadership. These leaders are willing to make a positive impact while bringing along their team, pushing them ahead in front of them, and letting the light shine on them. My current boss, Paul Thompson, says that it’s crucial to praise in public and correct in private. He is always quick to tell anybody that I’m smarter than he is (which is not always the case) but he also says that shows that he’s smart because he hired me. Never be afraid to tackle the work you are asking others do to for you. Never be above taking on certain tasks because it’s “below your pay grade.” By building up your team from a servant leadership position you will not only endear your self to those members, but you will also be able to form genuine positive relationships with them.

Finally, I want to leave you with a Sue Mastrario philosophy in life. My mother raised three strong, independent women. As I began my own journey into motherhood I asked her what her secret was. She said it is bittersweet but the most critical thing for you to do as a parent, and this translates to being a leader as well, is to work yourself out of a job. You want to build up others as you are on your leadership journey. By helping prepare the next generation of leaders, you are ensuring that the future of your mission will be well-secured. 

Thank you for allowing me to work as a servant leader during my time as a member of the CAES Alumni Association board. I have been honored to work with some of the most giving individuals, strongest leaders, and forward thinkers over my tenure. I have learned so much from the past several years and I hope that our college is a little better because of some small contribution I was able to make. I am sure some of the best and brightest leaders in our industry are reading this very post. Do not hesitate to get engaged. Raise your hand when calls for volunteers are sent out. YOU are the leaders of the future that we need to continue to be the best college at the best university in the land. I wish you all the best. 

Sarah Cook and Hairy Dawg at Ag Dawg Kickoff
Sarah Cook and Hairy Dawg at Ag Dawg Kickoff
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