A Growth Mentality

Smith-Lever logoHow do we grow the number of people we reach? The population of Texas is growing at a rapid pace, as is the population of the nation and the world. If Texas A&M AgriLife Extension is to remain relevant, we must think about methodologies aimed at growing the number of people we reach. Our success or failure to reach more people has a great deal to do with our mentality. We can have a “Growth Mentality,” or a  “Maintenance Mentality.”

A Maintenance Mentality is Satisfied – A Growth Mentality Has A Healthy Discontent
While it is certainly important to celebrate accomplishments, we can only revel in our good fortunes for a little while. A mentality of growth means that we are always seeking to improve, analyzing how it went, and what could go better. Any time we lull ourselves into thinking we have it made, we are in danger of it all falling apart. Small adjustments here and there allow us to target and reach more people. If we fail to make the small adjustments there will  come a time when our programs are no longer effective.

A Maintenance Mentality Looks Back – A Growth Mentality Looks Forward
When we get caught up in a maintenance mentality we find ourselves doing a lot of reminiscing. It is OK to look back at where we have been. We are celebrating 100 years of Extension programming. During this time we have been a major player in a number of educational areas. But what got us here, won’t get us there. Real leaders and those who want to grow think 5, 10, 50 years down the road. What will make Extension relevant in 2020, 2030, and 2050? What new approaches can we take to reach the audience of tomorrow? The answer to these questions can be found in the innovative minds of Extension Agents, Specialists, and Volunteers, but only if we are looking.

A Maintenance Mentality Wants to Stay the Same – A Growth Mentality Wants Constructive Change
Change is one of the things we fear the most, yet need the most. Winston Churchill once said, “If we do not take change by the hand, it will surely take us by the throat.” In order to grow we must be willing to let go of strategies that are no longer relevant and adopt new and innovative strategies. We must change our organization and programs in order to respond to ever changing challenges and issues. In order to change we must be willing to fail at times. As an administrator, I want to reassure you of the fact that you will never be criticized for trying a new and innovative educational event or program, even if it fails. The important thing is that you are thinking differently. You may, however, face scrutiny for not trying some new concept to reach a different or more diverse audience.

A Maintenance Mentality Focuses Only on Current Clientele – A Growth Mentality Focuses on Potential Clientele
We must serve our loyal customers. They have stuck with us through thick and thin, been at every meeting since 1970, and called at least once every two days. But, if our entire focus is upon them, how will we attract the person who has never heard of Extension? Unfortunately, the number of clientele who have been involved in Extension for multiple generations is going down.  Parents often are responsible for youth joining and persisting in activities (Anderson-Butcher, Newsome, & Ferrari, 2003; Huebner & Mancini, 2003). Many parents encourage their youth because they were involved. The same is true with adult audiences. If an individual grows up in a family who regularly attends Extension meetings, then they are more likely to attend Extension meetings as adults. Yet, if we are focusing only on children of past clientele, we are missing our only opportunity to grow.

A Maintenance Mentality Seeks to do it Alone – A Growth Mentality Develops and Empowers Volunteers
Our comfort zone lies in a maintenance mentality. It allows us to feel like we are in complete control, we call all the shots, and we don’t have to worry about managing the unknown variables that volunteers can bring. However, after analyzing 10 years of 4-H enrollment data in counties where volunteerism is high vs. counties where volunteerism is low, it can be determined that without volunteer assistance, a CEA can fulfill the needs of approximately 50 4-H members. Yet, when volunteer leaders are properly developed and empowered, enrollment increases exponentially. Likewise, attendance at Extension adult educationally programs is much higher when LAB or PAC members have been involved in program planning, design, and implementation. Working with and through others can multiply your effectiveness (Juchartz, 1978).


Anderson-Butcher, D. (2005). Recruitment and retention in youth development programming. The Prevention Researcher, 12(2), 3-6.

Anderson-Butcher, D., Newsome, W. S., & Ferrari, T. M. (2003). Participation in Boys and Girls Clubs and relationships to youth outcomes. Journal of Community Psychology, 31(1), 39-53.

Huebner, A., J., & Mancini, J. A. (2003). Shaping structured out-of-school time use among youth: The effects of self, family, and friend systems. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 32(6), 453-463.

Juchartz, D. (1978). Multiplying your Effectiveness. Journal of Extension [On-line], Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1978november/78-6-a8.pdf

This Article was Posted by Brandon Dukes, District Extension Administrator- Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

Categories: Targeting Program Outreach and Expansion