Professional development and personal growth were the focus of VALOR Seminar IX held in Gretna and Chatham, Va. Day one of the four-day seminar was led by the Director of Training and Development for American Farm Bureau, Jill Casten. Using the Thomas-Killmann Conflict Mode Instrument, Casten helped VALOR fellows understand their preferred modes of conflict resolution and provided opportunities for the application of these modes using real-life scenarios.
On day two, the fellows were hosted by Fred Wydner, Pittsylvania County Agriculture Commissioner and Robert Mills, farmer and Virginia Farm Bureau Board member at the Olde Dominion Agricultural Complex. Starting with an innovative group of agricultural visionaries in the region, this complex now exists because of regional collaboration that includes partners from government, industry, and non-profit sectors. The collaborative project has served as an economic development tool for the region and has elevated the profile of agricultural industry in the region.
The VALOR fellows also heard about the Rural Horseshoe Initiative, an effort to reframe workforce development in the Commonwealth through a network of 14 community colleges in the Virginia’s rural crescent. Chancellor of the Virginia Community College System, Glenn DuBois, and Curry Roberts of HF Consulting candidly discussed the role of post-secondary education and skill-based certification in securing our future. The goal of this public-private partnership is to ensure a college graduate in every Virginia home by 2025 because, as the Chancellor explained, “two out of every three jobs in Virginia will require more than a high school degree by the year 2020.”
Our last presentation at the Olde Dominion Agricultural Complex was from Corrine Geller, public relations manager for the Virginia State Police who spoke about crisis communication and media relations. The fellows were given opportunities to apply their new knowledge of crisis communication using agricultural case studies, developed by Corrine, in anticipation of being media contacts as agriculture leaders in their respective communities and areas of expertise. They were prompted to develop a media strategy for each case study and received feedback from this seasoned public relations professional. Geller also spent time discussing the role of crisis management through the media related to the Virginia Tech tragedy of 2007, which resonated profoundly and personally with the group.
The last day of the seminar addressed individual problem solving styles and working with governing boards and the dynamics of board governance. VALOR Director Megan Seibel spoke about preferences in cognitive style and group dynamics. By knowing individual preferences for problem solving, fellows will be better able to organize teams with the cognitive diversity needed to solve problems and effect change in agriculture and beyond. Sarah Hanks, graduate student for the Residential Leadership Community at Virginia Tech, discussed board dynamics with an emphasis on board governance and development. She brought professional expertise and insight with non-profit boards to the session. As leaders in the industry, many VALOR fellows serve in a board capacity and this session helped them understand what it takes to lead a board and develop the members in order to be successful.
In addition to the professional development activities, fellows developed personal best leadership projects based on The Leadership Challenge book that was introduced at a previous seminar. Each project was led by an individual fellow. Projects challenged the fellows and those identified as team members and stakeholders to employ the five practices of exemplary leadership while reaching intended outcomes. Reports on progress will be shared during the final session of this inaugural class prior to graduation.