What is leadership? We all have different ideas, and there are many definitions.

Some of the common ideas others use in leadership definitions include exerting influence, motivating and inspiring, helping others realize their potential, leading by example, selflessness and making a difference. One definition that I like is enabling a group to engage together in the process of developing, sharing and moving into vision, and then living it out.

The late Peter Drucker is quoted as saying, “The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.” John C. Maxwell, an American author, speaker and leadership expert, takes that definition a step further and sums up his definition of leadership as: “Leadership is influence — nothing more, nothing less.”

This moves beyond the position of defining the leader, to looking at the ability of the leader to influence others — both those who would consider themselves followers and those outside that circle. Indirectly, it also builds in leadership character, since without integrity and trustworthiness, the capability to influence will disappear.

There also are many theories of leadership. The Great Man Theory states leaders are born and not made, or great leaders will arise when there is a great need. The Behavioral Theory states leaders can be made rather than are born, and successful leadership is based in definable, learnable behavior. A couple of other theories that are just the opposite include the Transactional Theory, which states people are motivated by reward and punishment, or the assumption systems work best with a clear chain of command.

This flies directly in the face of the Transformational Theory, which assumes people will follow a person who inspires them, or a person with vision and passion can achieve great things. I am sure all theories and definitions have their place and purpose, and I also am sure education is critical to developing leaders. There are many leadership programs from the local to the national level. I want to talk about one statewide program many may have not heard about. It is the Oklahoma Agricultural Leadership Program (OALP).

In November 1980, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation sponsored a meeting in Spokane, Wash., to discuss “Leadership Development for Rural America.” Oklahoma was one of five states chosen to pilot this program. The overall objective of the Oklahoma Agricultural Leadership Program is to develop leaders for Oklahoma, especially in agriculture. There are three specific program objectives. First, the program is designed to help potential leaders develop a deeper and fuller appreciation and understanding of people. The second basic program objective is to help potential leaders develop a better understanding of basic systems of economics and government. The third basic objective is to help program participants utilize their understanding of people and their knowledge of systems of economics and government to solve problems and exploit opportunities for Oklahoma agriculture.

The OALP program was established in 1983 and since then has graduated nearly 350 agricultural leaders. The program is funded by the state Legislature, industry, private donors and Oklahoma State University Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. It is a two-year program that consists of 13 seminars. Each seminar lasts anywhere from two days to two weeks. The first, beginning the third week in August, involves activities entailing team-building skills. Next on the agenda are travel seminars. Members travel across the state to learn about the different agricultural industries in those areas. The class also visits Washington, D.C., for an eight-day seminar to learn more about the national government system. Finally, the class goes on a two-week international seminar that takes them to several different countries. Some of the countries visited are Australia, Germany, Netherlands, China, Brazil, Argentina, Belgium, Poland, Czechoslovakia and France. The OALP is targeted to applicants 25 to 45 who are involved in production agriculture and/or agribusiness.

So if you are interested in making a difference in your community or state then here is your opportunity. Give OALP a chance to take your individual skills and talents to the next level with the education and experiences not everyone has the opportunity to experience.

Vince Lombardi once said this about leadership: “Leadership rests not only upon ability, not only upon capacity; having the capacity to lead is not enough. The leader must be willing to use it. His leadership is then based on truth and character. There must be truth in the purpose and will power in the character.”

If you would like more information about the OALP, you can find it at http://oalp.okstate.edu or www.oklahomaagleadership.org. You also can contact Dr. Joe Williams, director of Oklahoma Agricultural Leadership Program, at (405) 744-8134.

Applications for the next class, which will begin in August 2008, will be available in January. Check the Web page at that time for details.

If you have any questions about this or other programs available through OSU, you can contact your local county extension office, or you can contact me at (580) 237-7677 or stan.ralstin@okstate.edu.

Ralstin is Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service community development specialist.

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