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Board Spotlight Q&A with Carolyn Olson

This quarter, Ag Innovation News highlights board member Carolyn Olson’s participation in the Minnesota Agriculture & Rural Leadership (MARL) program, a dynamic two-year educational experience dedicated to developing the skills of Minnesota’s agricultural and rural leaders so they may maximize their impact and effectiveness in local, state, national and international arenas.

AIN: Please explain to the readers what the MARL program is.

CO: MARL is an 18-month leadership course for agricultural and rural leaders. There are nine sessions spread throughout Minnesota, as well as time in Washington DC, and an international experience. The sessions take place in the winter months and focus on leadership skills, learning about yourself, and rural issues in each location.

AIN: What was your impetus for taking part in the program?

CO: As I approached a milestone birthday, I wanted to feel much better about entering that decade than I had the one before. I went through Life Purpose coaching, but I wanted to dive deeper. I knew I needed to understand myself better in order to be the best wife, mom and leader that I could be. The programing that MARL offers fit exactly what I was looking for.

AIN: What are the benefits of participating in the program?

CO: MARL gives you the ability to see beyond yourself. I have talked a lot about the self-discovery that has had a big impact on me, but MARL is so much more than that. Each Cohort has the opportunity to learn about so many facets of leadership and what is important in every region of the state.

AIN: How is the program formatted (cohort meetings, trips, etc.)?

CO: There are nine sessions, an international experience and graduation. Significant others are invited to three of those sessions, while the other sessions have topics relevant to the location, and the opportunity to tour companies in each of those locations. We are pushed out of our comfort zones at times, but that is where growth happens!

AIN: What was the most impactful experience you had during the program?

CO: I learned so much about myself through a number of personality and strengths assessments that are part of the program, like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Emotional Intelligence, Conflict Assessment and Strengths Finder. Each assessment comes with sessions on how to understand who you are, and how you relate to others. I have already been able to use what I have learned when interacting with others, especially during the challenging times we are in.

AIN: How did participating in MARL impact your professional life?

CO: I am on the Minnesota Farm Bureau Board of Directors, as well as a member of the AURI Board of Directors. I have experienced moments where I have wondered if I am smart enough or qualified enough to serve those organizations. MARL has helped me to see my strengths and how to use my gifts to be the best leader I can be.

AIN: What was the best takeaway from the MARL program?

CO: Being a leader is not just about holding a leadership position. It is using your gifts in a way that benefits your family, your community and the organizations you choose to participate in.

AIN: Why should people consider applying for to the MARL program?

CO: Minnesota needs leaders who understand agriculture and the unique aspects of rural communities. This is the best program that I know of where you can develop your leadership skills, learn how to communicate through various forms of media, and become more aware of issues around Minnesota with a focus on agriculture and rural communities. For more information about MARL visit: