The vastly changing rural landscape poses a challenge for the next generation of leaders as a result of a combination of economic and market forces, the corporatisation of agriculture and the escalating exodus of country youth to cities . This challenge is not just about the economic sustainability of family farms and regional communities. There is also a growing city-country divide that cries out for leadership.
Urban school children have little or no idea where food and fibre comes from, farmers feel under siege by animal rights and environmental campaigners who question their values and practices, and governments seem able to cut country services with impunity.
A new breed of rural leader is emerging to help steer primary industries, regional economies and local communities through these difficult times. Often, these are savvy young men and women who appreciate their traditional roots and a have a fierce commitment to the future of agriculture, while understanding the inevitability of change. They bring a fresh vigour to the challenges facing rural and regional Australia.
Not so welcome is the fact that organised efforts to improve the skills of tomorrow’s rural leaders often involve consultants and trainers from the big smoke. As a result, the next crop of rural leaders is losing the ability to communicate simply and effectively, even though a vital part of their role is to represent the bush to the wider community. Instead, they speak in the arcane language of city consultants. One prominent rural businesswoman who runs workshops in communication skills for emerging rural leaders speaks almost exclusively in management English.
Explaining the benefits of her program to one country newspaper, she says: “Even if we commit to small changes … such as the language we use to promote positivity in agriculture, those ripples will form part of the collaborative and proactive waves set to transform the agricultural industry.” Blah, blah, blah.
Equipping future rural leaders with the confidence and skills to communicate with diverse audiences is important. But the surest way to ensure that urban Australians switch off is to start speaking to them in management gibberish. People are sick of the continual flow of weasel words from politicians, managers and corporations. The last thing they want is for farmers to speak the same junk language.