Have we lost our sense of direction?


Rick Wagoner, president and chief executive officer of General Motors, tells this story:

Sir Anthony, a young knight, returned to the castle after a long, hard day. His face was bruised and swollen. His armor was dented. The plume on his helmet was broken and his horse was limping. He was a sad sight.

The lord of the castle ran out to greet him and asked, “What hath befallen thee, Sir Anthony?”

“Oh, Sire,” he said with great enthusiasm, “I have been laboring all day in your service, bloodying and pillaging your enemies to the West.”

“You’ve been doing WHAT?” gasped the astonished nobleman.

Thinking that the man must be a little deaf, Sir Anthony repeated what he had said, only much louder.

“But I don’t have any enemies to the west,” was the reply.

“Oh!” said Sir Anthony. He thought for a moment and then said, “Well, I think now you do.”

The moral to the story? To be successful, enthusiasm isn’t enough. You also need a clear sense of direction.

A friend who serves on a junior fair committee was talking to me over the weekend when she voiced a familiar refrain: “I’m trying to straighten them out, but they tend to sit around and complain about things they can’t control.”

A co-worker stuck his head in my office. “See this? They said it couldn’t be done. They sat around and complained about this procedure, but when I asked them why, they said you’ll never get the advertising department to change.”

Why not? I asked.

“That’s the same thing I wondered, so I decided to do something about it.”

An external force triggers more than three-quarters of the change that impacts you – whether you are a person, a farm, or a business. Action taken in Washington, for example, frequently affects everyone in the country. Externally enacted policies, rules, and laws determine how we go about our daily chores.

Consumed with denial. When things are going well, people tend to see the future as a reflection of the present. “What’s the problem?” they ask. “Let’s just keep doing what we’re doing.” This is denial.

And, when things aren’t going well, people tend to place blame on the external forces they’ve previously ignored. This is an advanced form of denial.

When we allow ourselves to be consumed with the little things, like the junior fair committee, or to blame external forces, like the co-workers, we lose sight of the big picture, of what we can control. We may fight enemies to the West that weren’t really enemies.

What we need is direction – a vision to stay focused. And then a process that lets us work toward the vision while keeping the little things in perspective. We need to re-evaluate virtually everything we do. Is it important? Is it critical? Can we do it better? Can we do without it?

One of the great things about this country is that we don’t sit by and wait for things to get better – we find solutions, we work with one another to find a better way, and we often help both our neighbors and ourselves. We lead.

Agriculture is in a major transition. Will we keep doing what we’re doing? Will we blame the external forces we’ve previously chosen to ignore? It’s decision time.

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