Carol Goland, Executive Director of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) since 2004, is trained as an ecological anthropologist. She has conducted research on traditional agricultural systems in the Peruvian Andes and sustainable agriculture in the Midwestern US. Previously, Carol taught environmental studies at Denison University.
Founded in 1979, OEFFA is a grassroots organization comprised of farmers, backyard gardeners, consumers, retailers, educators, researchers, and others who share a desire to build a healthy food system that brings prosperity to family farmers, meets the growing consumer demand for local food, creates economic opportunities for our rural communities, and safeguards the environment.
During Carol’s tenure at OEFFA, the organization’s membership has grown from 900 to 4,600 individuals, certifications of organic farm and food processors have increased six-fold, and the staff has increased by a factor of 12, all leading to greater impact in educating, promoting, and advocating for sustainable and organic food and farm systems.
Leading from Within facilitator Marrey Embers caught up with Carol about her experience with the program and her journey to lead and support OEFFA to work towards its vital mission. Here is an outtake of their conversation. Carol attended ICL’s Executive Leadership Program in 2008 and Leading from Within in 2014.
Marrey: I'm curious what things, both personally and professionally, did you come away from Leading from Within with that really added value to your work and life?
Carol: You know, I loved the program. I can't begin to tell you how much I appreciated it. When you do mission-driven work there are thin boundaries between the personal and professional, and what I began to develop and took away from Leading from Within was a real confidence in the person I was bringing to the work. [I saw] what my very own personhood and authentic self could bring to the work that I do. I'm guessing everyone who participates gets a unique message and it may be what they needed coming in the door – even if they didn't know that they needed it.
Marrey: It sounds like you broke through what was a barrier for you being you.
Carol: Yes, I feel like unless you’re authentic, you're not going to be all that you can be as a leader. So to me, the most important thing was giving myself permission to be the most authentic me. This is related to the sense of confidence – that it is okay to lead the organization being just who I am – not who I think I'm supposed to be based on some caricature of a leader.
Marrey: Wow – that is big! I think that is really deep. Does it ring true to you?
Carol: Very much so! That is what Leading from Within is looking to do; to create an environment where people really do both discover themselves, accept themselves, and find ways to use themselves in service of mission.
Marrey: I'm delighted you came away with that.
Carol: Thank you! I wanted to go beyond that. With that self knowledge and thinking about the organization first, I began to want to attract complementary players, rather than my clones.
Marrey: Right! And as you created this environment, what were some learnings or insights that would be useful for people to hear? Given the world that we're living in, bringing different people together is more challenging and necessary than ever.
Carol: Well, I think this speaks in part to the genius of the Leading from Within program. With the self knowledge of 'this is who I am' and 'this is what I can bring,' it's easier to see that I want some complementary players. Then some of the soft skills we worked on, such as active listening, recognizing triggers and adjusting in anticipation, or your 360 inventory, become much more important. The things that jumped out for me from the 360 were the need to do more encouraging of people and sharing my own philosophy and thought process and vision with staff. Those insights and soft skills are the pieces that help bridge those differences.
Figuring out who you are is the starting point for Leading from Within. Then, when you put yourself in the context of an organization, you need to explore who you need to gather around you and how to work together.
Marrey: Thank you for putting together that experience. Did you know you were doing all that?
Marrey: It's wonderful to have someone like yourself, who is a learner and who comes to the program ready to dig in and willing to look at herself and grow. Who might best benefit from the program – both where they sit in their organization and where they are in their career?
Carol: Anyone who manages other people can benefit from the program. I'll qualify and complicate my answer though by adding that no matter where you are on an organizational chart, to some extent you are managing other people. If you are the direct report, you are managing your boss or managing up. Others are managing their coworkers, which is managing sideways. You don’t have to be at the pinnacle of the organizational chart to develop and show leadership.
I was the only Executive Director in our cohort. I had been in that position for about 10 years at that time. It’s never too late! I think I could do it every 5 years and get something new out of it. I'm serious - I would really like to do Leading from Within again! I loved it and was so sad to see it end.