Do our policy leaders have the right outlook to get a farm bill done this year?
Leadership takes honest reflection and thinking about the needs of others, Jenny Schlecht writes. With that in mind, do we have the right leaders to get a new farm bill passed by Sept. 30?
I've been thinking a lot about leadership lately, in particular as we're gearing up here at Agweek to cover the expiration of the farm bill on Sept. 30 of this year .
I read something a few months back on a coaching blog that caused me to pause. To paraphrase, it said, before you scold a player for doing something wrong, reflect on whether or not you've adequately taught the skill or action you want to see. The comment section was full of reflections on how often leaders fail to prepare.
In my case, I am a youth softball coach, a manager at work, and a parent (importance not in that order). I've been reflecting on whether I adequately explain tagging up and whether I give bunt signs to kids who I haven't taught to bunt well enough. As a manager, am I annoyed at errors that I haven't adequately taught someone how to fix or avoid? As a parent, am I giving direction or guidance or just barking orders?
Leadership is not blustering, bellowing or belittling. It is guiding, learning, teaching and taking responsibility — and a lot of other traits that have nothing to do with people gazing up at one in awe.
So, as I reflect on what's coming with the farm bill, I'm thinking of policy leaders. The difference, of course, is that policy leaders are representatives of the people, rather than being in charge of the people. But the sentiment doesn't change much. Simply put, do our leaders reflect on how their work actually impacts the lives of those they represent? Does the leadership shown by our policy leaders make things better or worse for their constituency? Are they building walls or bridges? Are they representing the loudest voices and the fattest wallets or are they considering the needs and lives of everyone they represent? Are they spending time, effort and votes on what really matters or just doing what is visible to get re-elected?
We need leaders everywhere — real leaders who step up and take responsibility. Leaders who work to make things better for everyone, not just those who look and think like them. We need leaders who invest in building people up to be their best instead of tearing people down.
What does this have to do with the farm bill? It's simple: Whether or not a bill gets written before the deadline will come down to leadership. This is massive legislation that must incorporate a lot of thoughts and feelings and viewpoints. Do we have leaders who are willing to take the time to learn the needs of their constituents, and, in turn, explain those needs to their colleagues?
I'll be honest — I'm not optimistic. I don't see a lot of leadership coming out of Congress right now. The House Speaker vote debacle and all that has followed shows that we have major leadership problems in Washington. I have very low expectations for the folks we send to Washington to actually listen to problems and find solutions.
The farm bill couples farm policy with nutrition policy — a natural fit, really, since nutrition policy impacts supply and demand on farm products. But so often, our leaders seem to get bogged down in who should get what rather than looking at what this legislation should accomplish.
We need leaders who talk to experts — and listen to them — and who think about the good and bad that can come from policy decisions. I don't think we need to throw money at everything, but we do need leaders who are willing to look harder at how money is spent and at whether money actually helps or just looks good in a press release.
Do we have the kind of leaders who can reflect enough on how they're really doing their jobs in order to get good, passable legislation together? I guess we'll find out Sept. 30. I hope they exceed my expectations.
Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's editor. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 701-595-0425.