In the movie, “Sound of Music,” Maria (Julie Andrews) sings, “I am seeking the courage I lack.”
The line from the movie script is something women sometimes say to themselves. Lacking courage has kept many women from taking on leadership roles. A lack of courage can stymie a woman’s ability to lead in their own home, at job settings, and within farming and farm organizations.
“Knowing when to make our move, when to be quiet – it’s a difficult thing for all of us sometimes, but it takes courage to be in our industry,” said Sherry Saylor, chair of the American Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Committee.
Saylor gave a dynamic keynote address at the Virtual Farmfest Women in Ag Event held on Aug. 5.
She listed four character traits of leadership: composure, conviction, connection and courage.
Virtual participants were offered the opportunity to share which of these four traits was most challenging for them. While some participants said, “making connections” was the most difficult, even more said “staying courageous” was their biggest challenge.
Saylor, who farms with her husband in Arizona, and is a school guidance counselor, said she wasn’t surprised to see women felt they lacked the confidence to lead.
She encourages women to develope courage by knowing your subject matter very well. With knowledge and experience, a woman can respond with composure if she is challenged or questioned.
“I would say the whole thing is preparation,” she said. “You have to be prepared and that gives you courage.”
Preparation is not as easy as it sounds, though, especially in farming. The isolated nature of living on a farm can make it difficult to learn certain skills or get knowledge. Saylor encourages women and men to get involved with groups or organizations for that very reason – among the many benefits of being involved is the opportunity to gain skills and confidence.
“Farm Bureau gave me a community,” she said, adding that she also gained mentoring, socialization, training, and ultimately the courage to go out and share her story and abilities.
Saylor also discussed good points about composure, conviction and connection. Eighty percent of farm women work off the farm, and these traits can help women throughout their long workdays that are often followed by raising children and keeping up the home.
“If the public is going to listen to us, if they’re going to believe that we have those shared values that they do, we’ve got to learn how to not react in a negative manner,” she said.
As an example of composure, she pointed to Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger III, born Jan. 23, 1951. He saved the passengers of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 when both engines failed during takeoff in 2009. He had 208 seconds to decide to land the jet on the Hudson River. Remaining calm, Sullenberger used his years of experience, knowledge and practice to complete the water landing.
“That’s what we need to do in the agricultural community,” Saylor said. “We need to do our homework. We need to have an answer for those people that might have a tough question for us.”
Conviction and the ability to communicate that conviction are very difficult traits to master well in 2020. Farmers, even though it’s not fun, are trying to share their convictions about modern production agriculture. Their audience is the Millennial Mom, Saylor said.
Moms, and Dads too, want to know they are giving their children good and healthy food. It’s not an easy task with many of society’s voices calling for their attention through digital devices.
Developing and cultivating friendships with people that don’t share your beliefs, your upbringing, or your political philosophies can build unity and understanding, she added.
In her own life, a librarian at her school is a left-wing Democrat, while Saylor calls herself a little-right-of-center Republican. The librarian reads The New York Times, while Saylor reads The Wall Street Journal. The librarian wants more government, while Saylor wants less, and yet they are friends.
“We have come to this relationship by a lot of chatting and talking, and he shares with me articles about agriculture and now listens to me,” she said. “I believe if we can gain the respect from each other with civility, we will have common ground.”
The trait of connection refers to cultivating relationships. Respecting others, finding things in common and enjoying each other’s company will go a long way in finding solutions to problems and working through situations successfully.
Women in agriculture are finding their voices, Saylor said, but despite involvement in farming since the beginning of time, women remain the exception to the rule in places of ag leadership. Currently, women do serve successfully as advocates for agriculture and for today’s and tomorrow’s children. That is something women can be proud of accomplishing.
She closed her presentation with a quote attributed to Mother Teresa of the Catholic Church. The quote was, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”
Saylor encourages women to make a difference wherever they are called.