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Our Illinois 4-H Story

What I learned as Youth Leadership Team President

“To make the best better”—We all know the 4-H motto by heart. As 4-H members and supporters, this is what unites us—the passion and perseverance to take something that is great and pour our head, heart, and hands into creating something even better. Over the past four years of my time on the Illinois State 4-H Youth Leadership Team and my past year as Chair of the team, my driving force has been improving a team that already has so much to offer to 4-H members across Illinois. As I worked alongside a fantastic, driven team of premier leaders, we were able to expand our impact across the state and strengthen our team within itself. At the same time, I gained several invaluable skills that are critical for every leader to be successful.

What I learned as Chair:

Be flexible. In a constantly changing world (even without a pandemic), our plans are never set in stone. As leaders, it is critical that we not only have Plan A, but also Plans B and C. When these plans fail, we must be ready to adapt and adjust. Being creative and thinking outside the boundaries we have set for ourselves is critical to create new and innovative plans to adjust to the curveballs thrown our way. In my year as the Chair of the team, being flexible and thinking creatively as we redefined our events and offerings was an integral part of our success.

Delegate. Although delegating may sound simple, it is often harder than it seems. As leaders, we may have a vision that others may not fully see. As a result, it may be easy for us to fall into micromanaging our team’s efforts. However, delegating responsibilities provides a beautiful opportunity for others to contribute their unique perspectives and ideas, building more well-rounded outcomes formed by the time and efforts of many working hands. As an added bonus, delegating increases members’ investment in the team and decreases the stress of individual members. Through my time as Chair, I developed a greater appreciation for the importance and benefits of delegating.

Build community first. After experiencing a year of completely virtual events and meetings, the importance of building community quickly became apparent. When we prioritize building relationships and spending time in fellowship before we expect our teams to work together to create, we set ourselves up for success. By recognizing the critical importance of community, I was able to help build a team that collaborated seamlessly, communicated effectively, and inspired each other creatively.

Elevate voices and create together. One of the biggest mistakes we can make as leaders is imposing efforts and rules on our team. Rather, I found that it was more productive to provide opportunities to co-create our norms and define our goals together. By elevating all voices on the team and asking each member to play a role in this process, I found that members were more invested and engaged in our work.

Although my focus throughout the past four years on the team has been giving back to Illinois 4-H and building on the accomplishments of past YLT leaders as we “make the best better,” I look back now and see how much this team has given me. It has given me a community of leaders and friends, an opportunity to be creative and build opportunities for others, and a chance to serve as a leader in Illinois 4-H. For that, I am eternally grateful.

MEET THE AUTHOR: Beth Warden is a four-year member of the Youth Leadership Team and the 2021 YLT Chair. She was a 4-H member for 11 years, and is now an alumna of the organization. Currently, she is a senior in college studying Secondary Mathematics Education.