Mary Ellen Kuhn

When current and future IFT leaders came together in December for the third annual Strategic Leadership Forum (SLF), the atmosphere was charged with ideas, energy, and a strong sense of community. More than 100 members gathered in Rosemont, Ill., for the event, which was structured to provide those who attended with unique opportunities to enhance and expand their leadership abilities while networking and making professional connections.

cultivating LEADERSHIP

With that objective in mind, the event’s first session, “Breakthrough Leadership,” took SLF participants through a series of exercises framed to help them understand how true, visionary leadership allows an organization to achieve meaningful change. Managing change is critical, explained presenter Francisco Gomez, President of consulting company Executive Development Interactive, because even when change efforts are “sound” and “technically solid,” fewer than 30% are successful, according to statistics he cited from an article in Training & Development magazine.

Changing for the Better
When change is in the works, members of an organization want to know that the leadership team is fully vested in the initiative, Gomez emphasized. “Don’t kid yourself,” he said. “When you introduce a change, they [members of the organization] are asking, ‘how involved are you in this?’ You have to find a way of showing you have a skin in the game.”

Organizational change efforts err when they allow too much complacency, fail to declare short-term wins, or announce victory too soon, said Gomez, citing material from John P. Kotter’s book Leading Change (Harvard Business School Press, 1996).

People may experience different types of losses (real or apparent) during the process of change. Loss of turf, loss of meaning, and loss of control are some examples, said Gomez, citing material from a book by William Bridges titled Surviving Corporate Transition (Doubleday, 1998). An effective leader can help employees adjust with strategies such as negotiating, providing fact-based explanations, and facilitating some degree of individual control.

“People do not resist change per se,” said Gomez. “They resist change that they do not understand and that they feel is not going to be good for them.”

That said, however, when working to effect change in an organization, it’s important to remember that not everyone will adapt to it at the same pace—and some may never embrace it. “Research has shown that great leaders move on,” said Gomez. “They realize that some people will never get on board.”

The “Breakthrough Leadership” session was underwritten by General Mills.

Working Effectively Cross Generationally
In the workplace and within volunteer-driven organizations like IFT, it’s common for three or four generations to work side by side. Members of each generation bring different sensibilities and value systems to their roles. What are the secrets to interacting productively with those who belong to a different generation—on the job and in volunteer roles?

Teambuilding expert Jill McCrory helped SLF participants find ways to get inside the minds of their different-generation colleagues. She broke out the four key generational groups—Matures (born 1909–1945), Baby Boomers (1946–1964), Gen X (1965–1980), and Millenials (1981–1994)—and provided insights into their differing perspectives on everything from views of authority to career goals. In terms of career goals, for example, Matures set out to build a legacy; Boomers aim to build a stellar career; Xers hope to build a portable career; and Millenials seek to build parallel careers, she said. McCrory also shared communication strategies that might resonate with members of the various generational groups.

In addition to a number of other sessions, SLF attendees were treated to a discussion of social media titled “Leveraging Web 2.0 to Accomplish Your Organization’s Goals—How Social Media Is Changing How We Live and Work.” The session was moderated by Lauren Shimek, IDEO Food Science Innovator. Speakers included Wendy Kritt, Senior Director, Global Consumer Relations, Kraft Foods; Alex LeMay, Director of Manifest Motion, Manifest Digital; and Kelley Woodland, Senior Director for Consumer Relationship Marketing, Kraft Foods North America.

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What They Learned
Asked what insights they gained and what aspects of the IFT Strategic Leadership Forum they most enjoyed, some of the participants shared their thoughts.

“The 2009 IFT Strategic Leadership Forum was a valuable experience in leadership training, and there were several key lessons that I took away from the forum. First, as we all know, change is inevitable in both life and business; it is how we respond to that change that defines the outcome. Second, corporate change is always personal in the end because it affects individuals as well as larger groups. Finally, breakthrough leadership is a valuable mechanism through which successful leaders effect change and recognizes an employee’s need to believe, belong, contribute, and transcend.”

Rene D. Massengale, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Biotechnology Harrisburg University of Science and Technology

“I found it very intriguing to think about multi-generations in the workplace and how this reality should push us toward relating to each other’s work ethics. Examining the habits and interests of my generation vs the others was an eye opener for me.”

Barbara Blakistone, Ph.D. Director Scientific Affairs National Fisheries Institute

“I probably enjoyed the session on managing change the most. There was a good opportunity for interaction, lots of comments and questions and some good insights. I also enjoyed the opportunity to meet and talk with several of the Board members, including Marianne Gillette.

“I also will be applying some of the great information about self-branding to my own career, and plan to carry out some of the communication and assessment exercises with my team here, as well.” 

Nancy E. Rawson, Ph.D. Chief Scientific Officer WellGen Inc.

“I enjoyed every single moment of the Leadership Forum. As a first-time attendee, it really exposed me to key personnel in the food industry and academia.

“I learned the value of networking. Through the different sessions, I learned priceless leadership lessons, which I aim to utilize over the course of my career.”

David K. Asiamah Food Science and Technology Student Alabama A&M University

by Mary Ellen Kuhn is Managing Editor of Food Technology magazine ([email protected]).