EAST SYRACUSE, NY — As a sought-after professional speaker and radio commentator, Steve Gilliland logs thousands of miles on the road each day. It would be easy for him to lose direction and a sense of purpose.
It doesn’t happen, however, because he remembers the dark days that forced him to examine his life and take control.
Gilliland was the keynote speaker at the New York Farm Bureau’s Fusion Forum: “Fusing Purpose, Passion & Pride to Ignite Your Potential” at the DoubleTree hotel in East Syracuse in March. It was the first of two days of lectures and workshops aimed primarily at young farmers and ranchers.
Gilliland’s philosophy is called Making A Difference, based on his book of the same name. “Each of us has the potential to transform the culture of an organization through our actions and attitude,” he emphasized, whether that organization is a small family farm or the broader community.
Gilliland is a member of the national Speaker’s Hall of Fame and a comedian heard on SiriusXM Radio’s Laugh USA and Blue Collar Radio. He said his keys to success could be summed up in three words: purpose, passion, pride.
Obviously, he didn’t invent these words, but he took them to heart after being tutored, in effect, by a subordinate employee in his office. He called Margaret, his former executive secretary, “the greatest leader I ever knew.”
He had been newly-promoted in the company, but he felt he was definitely “in over my head.” He had a tendency to view his secretary lightly at first, but he was shocked when she immediately set forth the ground rules on what she expected from him.
“She gave me these three words, purpose, passion and pride,” Gilliland noted. “Pride defines who you are…The pride factor allows you to do (your job) like no one else.”
Margaret, who had been a secretary for 37 years, reflected the wisdom of his mother. “My mother used to tell me, ‘someone is always watching you,’” he said as a caution about slacking off from responsibility. His mother also advised him, “What you go through in life, son, will either make you bitter or better, weaker or stronger.”
If one leads a life with purpose, passion is equally important. It was embodied by the airline pilot Gilliland met early in his career and cited in his book. The pilot connected with every passenger, even showing concern for the pets in the cargo hold. As Gilliland reminded his listeners, “If you take care of people, the business will follow.”
He asked attendees to list five people who most impacted them. He added Dr. Randy Pausch, the late professor who, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2006, went public with his battle and gave one memorable “last lecture” prior to his death in 2008. Pausch was described as a teacher with passion. In and outside the classroom, he spoke of seeking the good in other people.
Promoting your farm workshops
The second day’s session began with simultaneous 45-minute workshops: Promoting Your Product & Yourself (consumer focus) by Douglas DiMento, Director of Corporate Communications for Agri-Mark, Inc., and Communicating with Media/PR by Beth Meyer, VP of Communications for American Dairy Association and Dairy Council.
DiMento explained how Agri-Mark, Cabot and McCadam promote their farmers and their products. He talked about how the logos have changed over the years, although they always contain the basics: the date when the company was founded (Cabot, “since 1919”), location (e.g. from the farmers of New York), and maybe a slogan (McAdam: New York’s finest cheese).
It’s possible to brand your business in a similar way: wear a t-shirt or hat with your farm’s name and logo in public; get on your local TV or radio station’s talk shows, perhaps by offering a family recipe or talking up a big event at your farm, such as sponsoring contests or hosting farm tours.
Everyone can easily take advantage of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media, and join community groups such as Rotary and the Chamber of Commerce. Get to know your regular customers, he added. Ask them questions about their likes, “and really listen.” Take time to explain your products and put your livelihood into perspective for them.
When the customers make a purchase, consider giving them an “add-on,” perhaps a thank you on a post-it note. “Give them personal attention,” DiMento said. “And always have something on sale.”
In anticipation of Gilliland’s lecture, he added, “Figure out what you do best and do more of that.”
Meyer’s workshop discussed how farmers need to be prepared for all types of media exposure, from the good to the bad and how to manage a crisis.
Additional workshops followed after lunch. Gilliland discussed “Leading with Heart,” designed to show leaders how to grow themselves and their staff “through timeless principles that will elicit positive change.”
Gretchen Wall, Produce Safety Alliance Coordinator at Cornell University, presented a talk on the difficulties of identifying and prioritizing food safety risks on the farm. Crop insurance experts discussed risk management.
The young farmers and ranchers were treated to two workshops the folllowing day with Lindsay Calvert, AFBF Director of Leadership Development. She spoke first about the ingredients for effective leadership. She later discussed how to explore and embrace change.