Square pegs

I am in my chair looking at the table in our living room when what did I notice? Square pegs in round holes! We all know that a ‘square peg in a round hole’ is a person who doesn’t fit into a role or social expectation. A misfit. Yet, here is a table with square pegs in all its round holes, as though square pegs were the right choice. And of course, they were. Square pegs in round holes grip better and make for better connections. So, do we have square pegs all wrong?

On January 16, I tweeted this through my @CanolaWatch handle: “I just had coffee with a friend who is a pilot. We talked about the disconnect between modern ag and everyone else. ‘You know what farmers need?,’ he says. ‘A presence on social media.’ … Hmm. Clearly a disconnect. How does #cdnag expand the conversation?”

Farmers and people involved in agriculture, people like me, are active on social media but perhaps we don’t venture much beyond our ag circles. My tweet inspired a Twitter-at-its-best thread, including this farmer tweet: “I do think we can occasionally participate in outreach. Take time to answer people’s questions if you can. Post and tag appropriate people. Farmers and ranchers have a great deal of credibility. Flex it once in a while.”

Then came this tweet, which inspired my thoughts on square pegs: “I’m not enough of a people person to do a good job at that, so I generally leave it for the ones who are.”

Does that person, who is present on Twitter, have a role in extending the reach of agriculture on social media even if he or she is “not enough of a people person”? Certainly. The challenge is to recognize individual strengths and contribute based those strengths. Rather than whittle square pegs round, find a fit for your squarepeggishness.

I read an article on leadership by organizational psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, posted January 9 at ideas.ted.com. It had some comments that should give comfort to introverts who might think they’re excluded from leadership based on their nature. Chamorro-Premuzic writes, “We appear to want leaders who are charming and entertaining, but as most of us know, there is a big difference between an effective leader and being a stand-up comedian. In fact, the best leaders are humble rather than charismatic, to the point of being boring.”

He gives the example of Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany. “She wakes up, has breakfast with her husband, goes to meetings well-prepared, lets other people talk without interrupting them, makes rational decisions, and there are no scandals about her.”

Chamorro-Premuzic says we love “charismatic individuals” and have an “inability to distinguish between confidence and competence”, which is interesting, though perhaps a hair off topic for this column. But one thing I took from the article is to rethink what being a leader can mean, and to value the real talents that individuals bring to a team; don’t try to force them into doing things that feel unnatural or are outside their skillset. Which brings me back to the “people person” tweet.

That’s when Ellen Pruden, Canola Eat Well director for Manitoba Canola Growers, jumped in with my favourite tweet of the whole thread: “Be authentic to you and do what you do best,” she wrote, and closed with a good tip for those who don’t love the limelight but still want to help: “Support your fellow farmers who love engaging and do it well.”

If you feel like the square peg in social media, take Ellen’s advice and just share, like, retweet those positive posts you think the greater community on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram should hear. Be natural. Do what feels right for you. Pegs of all shapes have a place in sharing messages about agriculture and reminding the average consumer that we in agriculture have the same desires as they do for a clean environment, good food and healthy families.

As I learned from my friend, maybe the farm community could do more to connect with consumers in social media. And as I learned from my coffee table, it’s time to change how we think about square pegs in round holes. Square pegs can help us make better connections.