Lessons in Leadership: Late Bloomer Shares Love for Learning

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It’s never too late to get involved in leadership positions. That is the message that Chris Cassady, Ph.D.,Technical Sales Field Manager for BioZyme® Inc., shares with young people who want to get involved, but think they have missed the opportunity.

Cassady was active in the Illinois and National Junior Angus Associations, showing cattle across the country and even competing in various educational contests like the Certified Angus Beef® Cook-Off. However, with taking care of his cattle, he never really thought about becoming involved in the leadership of the organizations that had given him so many opportunities until he was an “older kid.

“I didn’t get as involved as early as I would have liked to. I remember some people asked me why I wasn’t running for an office, so I was actually 18 or 19 before I held my first office, and it was the highest office of president,” Cassady said.

After having served a year on the Illinois Junior Angus Board, which he really enjoyed, Cassady decided it was time to give back to the organization that had given him so much. He ran for the National JuniorAngus Board and was one of six directors elected in the summer of 2008.

“When you are serving in that kind of leadership capacity, you are representing something you feel so strongly about. Being a board member for me, was an opportunity for me to give back for all the experiences and lifetime friendships I gained,” he said.

His two years on the NJAB provided him with valuable networking experiences as well as opportunities to travel and learn how producers do things. Both of these proved valuable in graduate school and later in his career, working as an instructor and livestock judging coach and now working with livestock producers. Two of Cassady’s favorite trips were to Vermillion Ranch in Montana and Three Trees in Georgia, very diverse geographies, which helped put the spotlight on how varied the cattle business is.

Growing up in Ancona, Illinois, we had cows, and I thought everybody did the same thing we did. I didn’t know it at the time, but the experience was very good for me,” Cassady said.

Personalities Galore

Getting to mesh with the different personalities on the junior board helped him during his time as an Assistant Teaching Professor, most recently at Iowa State University, and now talking to producers and others in the industry. With a group of diverse individuals, he learned that not everything is black and white, there has to be some give and take, and that each individual has a unique learning style.

I was able to learn how to work alongside people with different backgrounds and different mentalities, and you have to get along and you have to figure things out for the greater goals of the organization.

Cassady said one of the best parts of growing his network was learning to lean on each other’s strengths and weaknesses. This is a skill he has taken into his career both in academia and in the industry.

There were things I thought I was good at, and I found out I wasn’t. There were things I didn’t think I was good at, and I learned to be better,” he said.

Experience, the Best Teacher

Cassady’s involvement in junior Angus programs, including his term on the board, taught him that there are a lot of valuable mentors out there. Although he credits his dad, Kevin, and the Gary Dameron family for helping fuel his passion for the cattle industry, he has been able to learn a great deal from others.

“They always say, there is a reason you have one mouth and two ears; just listen. Experience is valuable. Producers can share a lot of knowledge,” he encouraged.

Although he might not have started his leadership roles until later in his teens, Cassady has definitely taken advantage of every opportunity. He said the important thing is regardless of your age, to just try new things.

“Don’t be afraid to fail,” he said, emphasizing that those experiences will also teach valuable lessons.

Failure is not final. It is just one of the many ways leaders learn, and for one late bloomer, who didn’t get involved as early as he would have liked, it’s just one of the many teachers he’s had along the way.

Cassady’s lesson in leadership is to get involved, no matter how young or how old you are. There are opportunities everywhere. You just need to find them and go after them.

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