In the mid-2000's, Dr. Robert Gates, then President of Texas A&M University met with a group of student leaders to discuss the attributes he felt were keys to success. His thoughts are appropriate for any organization, including agribusiness. (Dr. Gates is currently Secretary of Defense for the United States.)
1. Be very good at what you do. Competence is absolutely essential. If you want to be in charge, if you want to be successful, if you want to be a leader you have to know what you're doing. You have to bring competence to the table. Slipshod work, cutting corners will not help you be a success. Whatever your career field is in a certain sense of the word, you have to be a craftsman. You have to be able to show that you can do this job as well if not better than all the others.
2. Hard work. This is sometimes overlooked. 9 to 5 won't cut it. 12 hours a day. And if you want to be an entrepreneur and do your own business 70-80 hours a week. If you want to be in charge, you want to be a leader, you want to be successful, you are going to have to work harder than most other people. You are going to have to be willing to put in the hours. Just being smarter isn't good enough.
3. You have to be a risk taker. Especially with your career. There are too many bureaucrats in government, business and academia who are there because they are afraid to take a chance. They operate within their comfort zone. They don't want to be outside of it. They are happy where they are. They don't have to take any chances, they don't have to take any risks. Everything is comfortable. They will probably be happy for their entire career. But don't plan on being in charge. You have to decide when an opportunity is presented to you if you are willing to take the chance. Sometimes it won't be a clear choice. You will have to decide whether the risk is worth it.
4. You need to be a problem solver. Not a problem giver or a problem maker. What will set you apart from others when you have a problem is that when you go to your boss and you say, "I have a problem, but I think I have a solution." Everybody is going to have problems in their job, but if you want to make a mark with your boss, when you go in with a problem, also go in with 1 or 2 potential solutions.
5. Be courteous and respectful, and especially to people who are under you. You never know in this life who may make a difference in your career. Never underestimate who may be helpful to you someday. When you get to be a boss, you need to treat the people that work for you well.
6. When you are a subordinate, tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. What a real leader, a real boss wants is someone around who will say "that might not be the best way to do that." You have to use compassion doing this, you can't just blurt out, "well that's the dumbest thing I ever saw." Use a little tact. Sometimes you'll get a temper tantrum, but once they get over it, you'll have their respect. These people are invaluable and when you become a boss don't forget that they are invaluable.
7. Be loyal. If you can't be loyal, leave.
8. When you're in a position of authority, be willing to admit you made a mistake.
9. Have a vision. No matter what your position is, are you there just to pass the time or do you want to change things? Do you want to move it ahead a half step or a step? A true leader always aspires to make something better.
10. You will fail. In fact, you have to fail in order to succeed. Whether you succeed depends on how you handle a failure. A lot of people don't handle it very well. Leaders are people that stand up, dust themselves off and go on. How you fail depends on how you succeed.
11. Character and integrity are critical. In the real world, choices are not always crystal clear. But, you need a moral compass. You may compromise your position on issues or approaches to problems, but a true leader doesn't compromise his principles.