My late mother, DeEtta, had one of those smiles that could light up a room. In my opinion, her smile could light up an entire city! She embodied the sentiment credited to Mother Theresa, “Peace begins with a smile.” I am my mother's daughter and believe that forming meaningful connections with others is our highest calling. We have learned over the past few years the devastation that occurs when we are disconnected and isolated. As a young woman, I have been fortunate to learn from mentors within my family, community, and the Angus industry on what it means to handle differences. Meeting people where they are, communicating with integrity, and leading by example are the essential elements that have enabled me to create profound relationships along my journey.
In To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee writes, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."rdquo; There is far too much division in the world in which we live. We must meet people where they are, diffusing opposition with a kind word, with empathy, with a smile. When we take a step back from the situation and put ourselves in another person's shoes, we can better understand and appreciate their unique experience. As a young junior member, I struggled to get involved in the National Junior Angus Association activities. In 2013 at my first junior nationals in Kansas City, I was hesitant to participate in the Cook-Off competition because I would be working with people I did not know. An advisor from my state, Jamie, encouraged me to get involved in the Cook-Off competition. She saw in me the insecurity that was holding me back. She met me where I was and provided the compassion and support that I needed. From that situation, I made new friends and became more active in my state association. By meeting people where they are, we establish relationships. Through these relationships, I recognize that diversity enriches our lives and our moments with others.
Words have the power to unite or destroy. In our society, there seems to be a need to share every thought that comes to mind with little worry of how it might affect others. Our cultural landscape would look different if every single person communicated with integrity. From the leadership opportunities of my teen years and transitioning into college life, I have learned that it is best to express my values honestly and respectfully to others. This practice builds trust so that both parties can work together to resolve differences. While others may not agree with our thoughts or beliefs, they are at least allowed to witness the transparent communication of our convictions. Communication also involves listening to others with an open heart. The Certified Angus Beef brand is a well-known brand that has created a reputation by being honest about its purpose and product through truthful communication with consumers. While market demands fluctuate, CAB has not wavered from its consistent mission to promote registered Angus cattle through offering a high-quality Angus beef product. As a result, the brand has now seen six consecutive years surpassing one billion pounds of sales. We share our vision and create a dialogue that averts conflict and promotes successful collaboration by communicating with integrity.
As we meet people where they are and communicate with integrity, we display purposeful leadership to conquer problems as they arise. Leaders who lead by example are next-level problem-solvers committed to their personal growth and the benefit of others in their community. My brother Justin is one of my greatest role models who retired from the National Junior Angus Association board of directors this year. It was exciting to see him achieve this accomplishment that he had set as a goal early in his youth. However, his time on the board turned out to be more challenging than expected for the reason that no one could have imagined. The COVID-19 pandemic changed the rules for so much of Junior Angus operations. As the Leadership Director, I saw Justin deal with the obstacles of virtual rather than in-person events, the disappointment of canceled events, and the struggle with finding locations to host junior activities like the LEAD conference. When faced with many different ideas about moving forward, Justin kept a level head and stepped up to the leadership position that he was elected to by working with his fellow board members as a quiet example of consistent leadership. Through this chapter in his life, he encouraged others through a difficult time and has certainly inspired me with a desire to be a leader that sets an example for others.
I can still hear my mother's voice in my mind whenever I face potential conflict, “Mary, be the bigger person.” As a child, I did not truly understand what that meant, but by her example, I learned how to approach obstacles. Not surprisingly, she was a woman who confronted difficult situations head-on, creating opportunities for friendship where there might have been strife. Meeting people where they are, communicating with integrity, and leading by example have become the foundation I continue to build upon as I move to the next chapter. But, I always begin with a smile.