Lessons Learned in Leadership: As a continuation to the article that appeared in the June issue of Seed World, we sat down with Grassland Oregon’s Risa DeMasi and Justin Seed Co’s Tracy Tally get their take on the topic.

Tracy Tally, president of the Texas-based Justin Seed Co., is wrapping up his term as chair of the American Seed Trade Association. In this role, Tally has been responsible for laying the groundwork for a new strategic plan that was approved by the members this morning (June 11).


Risa DeMasi is the co-founder, partner and director of marketing for Grassland Oregon. In 2013, she became the first woman to serve as an officer of the American Seed Trade Association, serving as chairman during 2015-16.

For you, what does it mean to lead?

DeMasi: Mostly, I think, to listen. Collect and connect the dots.

Tally: For me, it’s having the desire and drive to recognize a goal and then not having the fear to do it, and to be able to guide others to it.


What is your guiding philosophy?

Tally: Treat others how you want to be treated.

DeMasi: To surround myself with wise, smart, passionate, kind people. I keep a personal board of directors whose members may change and rotate depending on the season in my life or challenges I face. By using the strengths and insights of my network and personal board of directors, I am more confident and free to explore the best path(s) forward.


Can you share an example of real professional growth? If you were to advise someone else in that circumstance, what would you say?

Tally: Six years ago, I would go out in the warehouse, drive the forklift and work alongside the guys. What I learned is that when I’m out there with them, it creates unnecessary stress. I discovered that it’s important to be present without being “in there” with them. If you want someone to take ownership in their job, you have to give them the opportunity.

 DeMasi: Serving on ASTA’s Board of Directors certainly stretched me and provided many growth opportunities. It took time to learn the different “languages” each sector of the seed industry speaks. Listening proved very helpful. Early on, I remember looking at the pages of acronyms and thinking I was in way over my head. I looked for opportunities to ask questions of staff and other board members outside of the formal meetings. It was up to me to represent my sector and communicate effectively. Learning the intricacies of opportunities and challenges of other sectors and seeing how everything fit in the global arena brought clarity and new insights from a personal, business and industry perspective. The experience has helped me in day-to-day business. Noting the ears, eyes, mouth ratio (4:1), watching and listening is still a good approach. I also recommend surrounding yourself with people you admire, trust and who will tell you the truth with your best interests in mind.


Biggest hurdle you had to overcome in taking your leadership to the next level? How did you do it?

Tally: Giving up control. I took on several leadership roles at the same time and it simply forced me to step away. I had to write my goals down and then share them with my team and step back, because I could not physically be there. It also taught me that you have to take care of your personal health, both mental and physical.

DeMasi: The biggest hurdle I had to overcome was myself. I had to get over fear and self-doubt. My personal board of directors encouraged (and chastised) when I need it most, pushing me further. Now I’m much more inclined to throw myself off a cliff (try a new experience) and expect to land.


Best leadership advice you ever received?

DeMasi: There have been so many great things people have spoken into my life. One of my favorites came from Krysta Harden, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, during the first time we met. “You are first, but not last. You have a responsibility to lead by example for all those who are coming behind you.”

Tally: Hire good, intelligent people and get out of their way.


Do you have a favorite book or resource on leadership?

DeMasi: “The Call,” by Os Guinness (the great-great-great grandson of Arthur Guinness of Guinness Beer).

Tally: I rely on heavily on my relationships with friends and mentors who I can communicate with, share with and learn from.


To read the first article, which includes responses from Jerry Flint, Craig Newman and John Schoenecker, visit