COLUMBIA — With an eye on grooming the next generation of Clemson Cooperative Extension leaders, the inaugural class of the Extension Emerging Leadership Initiative met for the first time this month at the Sandhill Research and Education Center.

The leadership initiative was inspired by the President’s Leadership Institute, a nine-month leadership development program started by Clemson University President James P. Clements. After taking part in that program, Midlands District Extension Director Deon Legette approached Clemson Extension Director Tom Dobbins and Associate Director Brian Callahan about creating a similar program for Extension personnel.

Addressing the inaugural 19-member class at the Lake House at the Sandhill REC, Legette said the group was extremely fortunate to have the backing of Clements as it began its journey. Clements is scheduled to address the group on principles of leadership at its next meeting, Dec. 4 on campus.

“I can’t even describe to you how inspirational and how motivational he has been to me throughout this whole process,” Legette said. “When I came up with the idea for this program, I sat down with him and his staff, (Chief of Staff) Max Allen and (President’s Leadership and Strategic Initiatives Director) Kyra Lobbins, and they gave me great guidance on what we should do and what we shouldn’t do. I presented the idea to Dr. Dobbins and Dr. Callahan, and they were on board.

“You have no idea how much President Clements supports this program. Dr. Dobbins also spent the entire time with us at the retreat — from the beginning to the end — and the class participants recognized that in their evaluations.”

The inaugural class of the Extension Emerging Leadership Initiative gathered for the first time as a group Nov. 13-14 at the Sandhill Research and Education Center.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

The objectives of the leadership initiative are to provide opportunities for personal growth and career development, enhance leaders’ roles at a higher level of excellence, bolster cohesion and team-building among leaders, promote and practice interpersonal skills, and provide tools and skills to enhance leadership.

“A leader has to have vision,” Legette said. “A leader has to know where the organization is, and a leader has to know what direction the organization is going in. So, a good leader is going to have the vision to tell you what is going to come and what is expected in the future.”

After Legette welcomed the class members, Dobbins stressed to the class that the program was not about bolstering résumés or boosting egos, but rather about building the skills to lead Clemson Extension into the future.

“This is not about the individual,” Dobbins said. “This is about where you want to go from here. This is about the Extension service. How do you think we’ve stayed around for over 100 years? If we had egotistical people running this organization, it would not have stayed around. We are here to serve the people of the state of South Carolina.”

Dobbins also told the inaugural class that the Cooperative Extension Service is “not a place for individual stars,” but an organization that works as a team to deliver the university’s land-grant mission to South Carolinians.

Tom Dobbins addresses leadership class.

Clemson Extension Director Tom Dobbins addressed the EELI class on Extension’s mission “to serve the people of the state of South Carolina.”
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

“You’ve got to have a passion for Extension service,” he said. “And the reason I say you’ve got to have passion and motivation for Extension service is because your job is to serve other people.”

Next, Keith Belli, dean of Clemson’s College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences, told the group he believed what Extension personnel do best is take complex topics and scientific concepts and turn them into something that could be easily understood and used by the general public.

“What truly makes a leader? Just because you’re a leader doesn’t also mean you can’t be a team member,” Belli said. “A leader needs to know when to step up and when to stand down, because no one gets anything done just by themselves and not everybody in this room is going to be in a leadership position all the time. The other times you’re going to be part of a team. And, so, it’s just as important to check your ego at the door and go do the teamwork.”

Another aspect of effective leadership that Belli discussed with the group is the importance of “humility and will.”

“You have to have the determination and the discipline to follow through and keep going through the potholes and roadblocks and complete what you set out to do if you know it’s the right thing for the organization,” he said.

Keith Belli speaks to EELI class.

Keith Belli, dean of Clemson’s College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences, told the EELI class that “a leader needs to know when to step up and when to stand down.”
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

Callahan then discussed his vision for the inaugural class to prepare the next generation of Extension leadership.

“Over 50 percent of our organization, as far as agents go, has 10 years experience or less and one third of the organization has five years or less,” Callahan said, “and that really feeds into one reason why you are all here. There’s going to be a tremendous amount of leadership opportunities opening, and everyone here is already in some sort of leadership role. All of you are a member of a team, leading a project or leading something already. So don’t take that lightly. Lead is an ongoing word. Lead is an action; it’s not a title.”

The group then heard from Frank Lever III, the grandson of Frank Lever, a former congressman who is the namesake of the Smith–Lever Act of 1914, the federal law that established a system of cooperative extension services connected to land-grant universities such as Clemson, and the Lever Hall of Fame, which recognizes former Clemson Extension Agents for superior contributions and outstanding leadership in promoting the Extension mission in their home communities and throughout South Carolina.

Lever has worked extensively in the field of military personnel administration, military policy development and implementation, logistics management, development of military training and education, and soldier and family health and welfare issues, and has had considerable experience in the private sector as well.

“Let me just say, congratulations to each one of you for being selected to participate in this program,” Lever said. “I can’t stress how important leadership is in today’s world. Leaders are not born; they are made. This is a part of your toolkit. Any opportunity you get to add a tool into that toolbox, as far as being a leader, you need to be adding it. It takes a lot of work to be a leader.”

Frank Lever III speaks to the EELI class.

Frank Lever III, the grandson of Frank Lever, a former Congressman who is the namesake of the Smith–Lever Act of 1914, the federal law that established a system of cooperative extension services connected to land-grant universities such as Clemson, addresses the inaugural EELI class.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

Lever also said that while knowledge could be obtained in a classroom setting, it is just as important to observe leaders who are part of your life and learn from them.

“Also, don’t forget to learn from the people who you’ve led,” he said. “All too often you get in a leadership position and you forget the importance of the followers. All of us have been followers in our lives, but also remember when you’re leading to learn from them and to listen to them. In this day and age, you better listen because they probably have a lot more information than what you think you may have.”

Kenston Griffin of Dream Builders Communication Inc. took the class on a three-hour interactive journey of self-discovery where they learned their leadership styles through a personality assessment and group activities. Class participants were able to recognize similarities and differences in their leadership styles while discovering ways to enhance each.

Day two of the retreat included a session on professional ethics, image, examples of professionalism and strategies for time management from Ashley Strickland, training manager in the Clemson University Human Resources Department.

The 2018-19 inaugural class includes:

  • Will Culler, area Extension agent-agribusiness, Lexington;
  • Amy Dabbs, area Extension agent-horticulture, Charleston;
  • Jeff Fellers, area Extension agent-natural resources, Union;
  • Stanley Green, Extension associate-agribusiness, Sandhill Research and Education Center;
  • Chris Heintze, director, T. Ed Garrison Arena;
  • Faith Isreal, area Extension agent-food systems and safety, Richland;
  • Tarana Khan, state program coordinator, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Programs (EFNEP), Sandhill REC;
  • Terasa Lott, state coordinator, S.C. Master Gardener Program, Florence;
  • Kim Morganello, county Extension agent-water resources, Charleston;
  • Christine Patrick, county Extension agent-food systems and safety/EFNEP, Bamberg;
  • Brittany Peacock, county Extension agent-livestock and forages, Aiken;
  • Derrick Phinney, natural resources program team leader, Dorchester;
  • Jaime Pohlman, county Extension agent-4-H, McCormick;
  • Jessica Simpson, county Extension agent-4-H, Anderson;
  • Zack Snipes, area horticulture agent, Charleston;
  • Terri Sumpter, county Extension agent-4-H, Sumter;
  • Richard Lee Van Vlake, area Extension agent-livestock and forages, Florence;
  • Marlyne Walker, county Extension agent, EFNEP specialist, Fairfield; and
  • Patricia Whitener, county Extension agent-4-H, Greenville.