Sarah Spatola could have become your president last month without going through the UF/IFAS Wedgworth Leadership Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources, but she probably wouldn’t have.
That’s her own assessment. It’s powerful testimony to the power of the FNGLA-UF/IFAS partnership. Wedgworth training has become so much a part of the FNGLA leadership culture, there is now a Wedgworth alumni reception at the FNGLA annual convention each year! And, it’s where I had an opportunity to connect with your new president.
What convinced me there’s a great year ahead for our partnership is she recognizes we do at least two things really well at UF/IFAS. We teach, and we awaken. Sarah has experienced both firsthand.
For example, she’s been in contact with Michael Dukes of the UF/IFAS Center for Land Use Efficiency about research on nursery plants’ nutrient uptake. What she learns she can apply to her day job at Ecologel, where the first research done for its flagship product was conducted by UF/IFAS.
Meanwhile, her Wedgworth experience helped convince her that now is her time to serve. Sarah had already been involved with the FNGLA Allied Division Leaders to improve vendors’ trade show experiences. And when she read the Water 2070 report, she knew she needed to put her experience with water conservation to use on behalf of the industry.
Wedgworth awakened her to the possibility of leadership in several ways. The program drives home in its participants a leadership imperative through a very simple maxim: the world is run by those who show up. It helps industry professionals to get past initial hesitations over whether they’re qualified to lead and to stop waiting for others to take action. Sarah also saw her classmate (and your immediate past president) Martin Hackney get tapped for FNGLA leadership during their time together in Wedgworth Class X.
Wedgworth also connected her with a mentor. If you’re at all involved in FNGLA, you likely know Linda Adams, your COO. She has nominated several industry professionals for Wedgworth. Linda and I see some of the same things in Sarah—the energy and drive of a younger generation leader and an appreciation for generational changes in consumer preferences.
At the same time, Sarah values the history Linda brings to FNGLA. In fact, Linda has been working at FNGLA since before Sarah was born!
I, too, see tremendous value in Linda’s history and was glad to see her at the FNGLA Wedgworth alumni reception. That’s right, Linda, too, is an alumna of Wedgworth, Class IV.
Mentor and mentee alike circulated at the Wedgworth reception, along with FNGLA mainstays who are current Wedgworth Class XI members—Peter James, Phillip Hisey, and Heather Blake.
Wedgworth emphasizes understanding of thorny issues, of which there are plenty in Florida agriculture and natural resources. Participants develop their skills in communication, interpersonal relations, decision-making and problem-solving. And they become part of a network of alumni hundreds of members strong, from all sectors of the agriculture and natural resources industries.
This kind of leadership will help your industry. You need allies on issues such as water quality. It helps if you have a president such as Sarah who through Wedgworth has spent time talking with and listening to people who are entrenched in water-related disputes like that in Apalachicola Bay, for example. They are deep conversations which aim to create understanding, not score political points.
Leadership development is not a one-and-done thing. Wedgworth helped groom Will Womack to serve as president, then Martin, and now Sarah. And someday, in the distant future, we’ll even need a successor for Linda Adams.
It’s already time to start thinking beyond Sarah Spatola’s presidency. Who’s next? Is it you? Call Linda, call Sarah, contact Christy Chiarelli (firstname.lastname@example.org) at Wedgworth, or call me. Let’s get started on unlocking the leader within you.
Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).