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Strengthen your county FB's 'depth chart'

Southwest tag-team Sarah Pion and Brigette Leach channeled their inner Izzo into a compact course on strong succession planning for county Farm Bureau leaders.
Date Posted: February 9, 2022

Council of Presidents attendees got a crash course in county Farm Bureau survival tactics: how to develop and maintain a “depth chart” of able leaders to ensure board seats and executive positions don’t stay empty long.

A duo of heavy hitters from the southwest — MFB District 1 Director Brigette Leach and Regional Manager Sarah Pion — drove home the depth-chart analogy with frequent references to Spartan Hoops Svengali Tom Izzo.

“Strong county Farm Bureaus don’t happen by accident,” Pion started. “Tom Izzo is recruiting point guards right now who are still in high school” or even younger to ensure the ongoing success of Spartan basketball.

Leach and Pion then presented several key tenets of building a solid succession plan for similarly ensuring your county Farm Bureau board has qualified directors waiting in the wings:

  • Evaluate the current board, assessing what attributes and skills each director brings to the table.
  • Really understand the board terms and term limits in your county FB by-laws.
  • Identify prospective board members years in advance and engage them, laying the groundwork for their rise up the ranks.
  • Have a Plan B ready if your first pick falls through or loses interest.

Chiming in from deep in the room, Iosco County’s Jim McArdle shared a bit of sound wisdom for ambitious county leaders: “We’ve got to allow the grass roots to blossom at their own speed” — which got a quick ‘amen’ from Professor Leach.

“That’s right, Jim. Discovering volunteers’ unique skill sets takes time,” Leach said. “If they’re not everything you were hoping for, you either help them become that dream or find another volunteer to fill the gaps alongside them.”

But as anyone who’s worked a membership drive will confirm, “finding another volunteer” isn’t as easy as finding milk at the grocery store. Prospecting for future leaders among the membership involves ramping things up a notch and challenging them with meaningful involvement:

  • Engage prospective leaders in a variety of Farm Bureau activities.
  • Appoint prospects to a county committee or task force.
  • Ask them to help with or coordinate an event or activity.
  • Encourage existing board members to mentor prospects.
  • Ask for their input during goal-setting or strategic planning sessions.

The notion of matching members’ unique skills to ‘patch’ the shortcomings of a larger body clicked and sank in Leach & Pion’s second act, an always-relevant and worth-repeating reminder of the importance of delegating.

In a nutshell: Effective leaders delegate to others, entrusting small, well-defined tasks among many individuals, minimizing the perceived burden of large projects and staving off the ever-present threat of burnout.

And in most cases, the bigger that team is the better, so even if some delegatees underperform or fall off entirely, the leader still has backups on hand for sharing the load.

From there the pair of seasoned instructors moved on to challenge their students to exercise these concepts with some straightforward delegatory actions:

  • Appoint board members to lead specific projects.
  • Entrust your executive committee with decision-making.
  • Put board members into position for success.
  • Solicit and value board members’ input on issues and projects.
  • Incorporate director-training topics into each board meeting and share leadership-development opportunities outside the context of Farm Bureau.

To bring things full-circle, Pion revisited her opening analogy:

“Think of your county Farm Bureau as a college athletic team,” Pion started. “It’s all about recruiting the right players and developing them, right?”

That teed up Leach’s final salvo:

“Demonstrating that you’re willing to invest in people goes a long way toward making them feel valued.”

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