August 15, 2023
NELD: Why Me?
Carpe diem… I get it, we are all busy. But when opportunities come that demand for several days of commitment, the North Central Extension Leadership Development program -- or NELD -- is one of those that you should seize.
My opportunity came in December 2021 when I received an email that I was nominated to participate in the 2022 class. First, I was wondering, 'Why me?' and then, 'How can I make it happen?'
The 'how' was surprisingly easy: K-State’s Extension Administration pays for most of the expenses, plus there is a travel contribution from my department. And more interestingly, it’s as if someone looked at my schedule, and the sessions fit.
The 'why' is still unanswered, but I think the answer is still in the future, so in the meantime, I trust my nominee.
There are many things I learned throughout the program, but I would like to share the top three important take aways for me.
First, leadership is all about people. A majority of the lessons revolved around understanding and working along with the people around you – above, below, and similar to your current leadership position.
We did different assessment tests and exercises geared towards knowing ourselves better so we can understand and empathize with others. The highlights of these include a coaching exercise followed by a visit to a non-profit facility that helps less fortunate neighbors, the Operation Breakthrough in Kansas City. It was inspiring to say the least.
Secondly, leaders embrace change. There were several activities that emphasized this lesson capped by a visit to Washington, DC.
One of the activities was to find a leader who has made a significant historical impact; a leader that speaks closely to your professional field or personality. If you think about it, the national capital is replete of leaders that chartered new paths believing that it leads to a better future, many of which we are grateful for.
While the activity was great, we enjoyed most the camaraderie and adventure of the cohorts. Picture this: Four Kansans not driving, but rather zipping across DC using subway and buses during rush hour.
Which leads me to the last lesson learned: You are not alone. NELD is a great program to develop leadership skills with fellow extension professionals. Yes, you can learn other leadership programs, but I think there is nothing more fulfilling than to learn it with similar service-oriented minds and extension-cultured people.
Personally, I got to know better three more great leaders of K-State Research and Extension, namely, Candis Meerpohl, Jessica Kootz, and Patsy Maddy. I also grew my network to know and befriend other extension specialists from neighboring states.
Interestingly, one of the guest speakers for one of our sessions was Dr. Marshall Stewart, who shared with the group the bright future of extension. How exciting to know that he has then moved from University of Missouri to K-State, bringing with him the positive outlook for our system.
When NELD 2022 concluded, the charge to the graduates was to use and implement what we learned for the betterment of the extension system and the institutions. I don’t think many of us were really looking for big changes when we returned to our institutions. But in my small group, I have started to use some of the tools we were taught.
For example, I had my team members do the Clifton Strengths Assessment and then developed the team grid. It is gratifying to see that each team member now has a better understanding of each other and are aware of their strengths. I think it contributed to a better working environment particularly during the busy times of the year.
I know that NELD 2023 is ongoing and I've heard that things are going well. Thanks to the excellent group at Missouri Training Institute that runs this program, and the strong support of the university extension administrations across the North Central region.
I hope that K-State Research and Extension will have more NELD graduates by encouraging more to consider this in their professional development plans. I believe that this is a good investment by the extension administration, and by the individuals themselves.