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Recently I had the honor of interviewing an accomplished leader, John Rabby, who has over three decades’ experience in global agribusiness development. He had so much wisdom to share from his lengthy career. Take a few moments to enjoy some highlights from our amazing conversation…and let it inspire you on your own path today.  

But first, a little about John: He founded the global agribusiness consulting firm, RE LLC, in 2011. From 2013-2019, he was President and CEO of AgBiome Innovations, a North-Carolina based biotechnology company. John currently sits on AgBiome’s board of directors. 

Oh, and if that weren’t impressive enough, he is also the Distinguished Fellow for the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology at Mississippi State University. 

From humble beginnings, a budding leader is born… 

A Mississippi native, John thought he wanted to be a research scientist when he first got out of school. But, “As I learned more about the science behind so many products in agriculture, I continued to become more and more involved because I understood how to communicate between tech research and commercial teams to explain how things work.”  

This ultimately allowed John to be in front of a lot of people, exposed to many great role models and teachers. “Doors were opened for me around the world to talk about our products. I never thought as a research scientist that I would become a part of teams,” John shared.  

“People around me recognized raw talents that I had,” says John. He was sent to some of the best business schools to learn and network with a diverse group of people over the years, which allowed him the opportunity to relate and communicate with people who were very different than him. “Next thing you know, I’m climbing the ladder,” reminisced John.   

“Your degree doesn’t define where you go, your talents define where you go.” -John Rabby 

John always found it fun to learn how to run a business – but “they don’t teach you how to lead people in business school,” he explained. 

The biggest leadership lesson John learned early on…  

He was the youngest person leading a big group of older people. And he was scathed in the 360 assessments on where he was failing as a leader. Ouch. It was a humbling experience to learn that he wasn’t a good listener, and he wasn’t allowing others to bring their best to the team.  

He apologized. This represented a big turning point for the team and for him as a leader. Building relationships with his team is what allowed for the greatest successes. 

Surprise! Not everyone acts like you, thinks like you, cares about the same things as you do…But we all have various nuggets and gems to share. Once we are allowed and encouraged to express those things, it gets better and better – for all.  

The value of sincere networking in business Networking | Leadership

Genuine sincere networking makes the biggest difference in who you become while you are going where you want to go. 

You don’t really learn everything you need to learn in school: think intuition, experience, character building. John reminds us, “Getting knocked down and having to get back up is an important piece of growth in your career and business.”  

Think about these key questions: 

  • How can I help my customers have a better business? That was the question he always asked rather than just selling them something.  
  • How can I connect you to people, to bring value? That’s what builds strong and genuine relationships.  

Take inspiration from the strength of a single mom 

John’s father passed away when he and his siblings were young. He shared his story of his mother’s strength and power in raising them as a single mom.  

When his mom was elderly, he asked her one question: what would she have done differently? She had obviously accomplished so many things in her life, yet her answer was simple, memorable and very thought-provoking: that she would have done more.  

Do as much as you can” is the advice he took from that experience, and he continues to share it with others even today.  

Aspirations of becoming CEO of a company 

Like many of us, John had big aspirations: he wanted to be the CEO of the company even though he had no idea what it meant other than riding around in big cars and flying in jets.  

Then reality set in. He learned over time that being the leader of a major company means making a huge sacrifice and commitment. Leaders need to be always involved in every aspect of it – and available. He’s run billion-dollar companies but still doesn’t know what he wants to do.  

How many of us can relate to that? But don’t let it keep you from doing something. Just keep doing things all the time, keep learning, keep experimenting. That’s what makes life fun! So many people have it in them, they just don’t do it. 

The all-too-familiar fear of failure is a driving force in John’s life. He reminds us that you’ve got to get out there and not be afraid to fail.  

How to handle failure using redirect vs overcome 

Failure | LeadershipJohn likes to use redirect vs overcome when it comes to how to handle failure. He was devastated when he didn’t get a promotion that he was sure he should have had. Yep, we’ve all been there. But looking back, he realized that if he had taken that direction, it would never have led to the amazing opportunities and successes that he ended up achieving.

He looks back on that as a bifurcating moment in his life.  

Says John: “We don’t have one mentor in life. You can’t clone yourself after someone else. Recognize the gifts that others have to offer and share with you. There are nuggets from so many people in your life around you!”  

He uses the analogy of a mosaic in terms of the pieces he has gained from so many people that make up who he has become along the way. Be wise enough to recognize what is available to you along your way.  

A distinguished leader’s greatest accomplishments…in business & life 

John says his greatest accomplishment is giving young people opportunities and watching them blossom and grow into incredible leaders. “I love being a piece of their mosaic to open doors and help them get where they want to go as they create their careers,” he says.  

He has some smart recommendations:  

  • Have your eye on the role you want, establishing what is required in that role.  
  • Ask: What must you learn to develop those skills in order to obtain the jobs you need to have along the way to get there? 

It’s not a guarantee you’ll get that job, but you will have a skillset and experience set that will place you in great positions in your career. Your resume will be an incredible, impressive summary. Have a strategy for how – and be willing and open to all the opportunities brought to you along the way.  

Your experience will open up the doors for you. 

Truly, John’s most fulfilling accomplishment today are the people in his life. The shelves that used to be filled with awards, acknowledgments and books are now filled with his family, friends and those he loves most in his world. Always keep that in mind – ask yourself what’s really important to you. 

Make patience part of your leadership strategy Patience | Leadership

What would John tell his past self if he could? Be patient. “Things didn’t need to happen daily. I didn’t need to get frustrated when it didn’t happen at the pace I wanted. You have to stop, listen and hear others, their concerns.”  

That is at the foundation of his work even today. “As you grow in your career, you realize how important and valuable patience will help you to grow and be your best in your position,” John advises. 

Take this advice he offers: “Patience needs to be part of your strategy. Eating iron every morning for breakfast and staying too intense will make you miss what’s most important to grow your career along the way.” 

What’s ahead on the path of this incredible leader?  

John says he’s open to anything. He loves how cool it is to check new boxes – that’s what makes life fun, keeps it interesting (how true is that?!). Doing things he has never even known about or thought about before are what keeps life great and exciting. Do More.  

“Learning more about the current generation to lead them is where I want to grow. The way I learned things is so much different than the way I did it, so I can’t put things in the same box. What is available now at your fingertips is phenomenal and allows for so many more incredible experiences. Think about things – play things out in your head. We don’t have to learn how to think, and we can’t forget that.” 

Be realistic about your leadership goals 

GOALSBe realistic about what it takes to get to the levels you want to go.

The work that is required, the experience you need is available to you.

You can get it…but it’s not going to happen tomorrow.  

Invest in your company to cultivate relationships.

If it doesn’t happen as fast or in the way you thought doesn’t mean anything negative about you. It just means it’s taking a different path than you expected, that’s it.  

5 Leadership Gems to Follow at Any Stage of the Journey: 

  • Be open, willing to listen and wise enough to notice those who want to help you along the way.  
  • Seek out good mentors and positive role models. 
  • Have the maturity to ask for advice and get honest feedback. Take the positives from it and grow from there.  
  • Focus on your zone of genius: and be willing to hear where your skills are not up to par. Don’t let that make you quit.  
  • Value honesty: it’s there to help you grow and become your best to get where you want to go. Let it propel you to the next level of learning and experience you can have.  

John most wants to be known for helping a lot of people get connected to their own skillsets and opportunities. He says simply, “I want to be known for helping people.” He hopes that when he sees them when they get to the great levels, that they remember to pass what they’ve learned on to others.  

Pass it on is John’s mantra: “When you have a chance to help others, and they want to be helped, that will give you great satisfaction in your life. As they become better people in business and life, hopefully they’ll pass it on to someone else.” 

Connect with John: 

Leadership development for every level. That’s our focus here at Strive. Find out how we can help you & your organization soar to new heights of success, even in these uncertain times 

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