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How Innovative Leadership Keeps Cooperative Extension Strong: An Interview with Karl Bradley


In a rapidly changing world, innovative leadership is critical for Cooperative Extension's success. Leadership development equips Extension professionals with the skills to navigate complex issues, build collaborative teams, consistently adapt, and create programs to meet emerging needs. This ensures Cooperative Extension remains a relevant and impactful force.

The Extension Foundation actively supports this goal through the expertise of Karl Bradley, its Leadership and Team Development Specialist. Karl joined the team in 2020, bringing over 25 years of experience from the U.S. Air Force and football coaching, where he honed his leadership skills across various areas.

Originally from Branson, Missouri, Karl has a proven track record leading teams of various sizes. His experience spans public relations, operations, fundraising, and more, across 49 states and 20 countries. This diverse background positions him perfectly to guide Extension professionals in building strong alliances, fostering partnerships, and driving positive change.

In this Q&A, you’ll learn about the ways Karl and the Extension Foundation can support your organization and team. Listen in as Karl chats with Dr. Aaron Weibe about effective leadership strategies on the latest episode of the Connect Extension podcast. Discover Karl's passion for leadership in the short video we’ve included at the end of this piece. Connect with Karl on LinkedIn to learn more about his expertise.

What do you do for the Extension Foundation?

My job is to positively influence the 32,000 Cooperative Extension professionals across the country so they can continue creating meaningful experiences for the people of our nation. My primary purpose is to awaken everyone to the power of their leadership!

Peter Drucker says “Only three things happen in organizations; friction, confusion, and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership.”

The most important thing to remember about this is that these things “happen naturally” when we start collaborating. Friction is present when people don’t understand one another. Confusion happens when communication isn’t effective. Underperformance shows up with skills mismatch and culture issues.

When we seek to understand each other before being understood ourselves, friction begins to fade. When we align what we say with what we do, confusion begins to fade. Engagement increases as we connect through our shared humanity.

We help teams realize it doesn’t have to be this way. You can have the positive experience you want together. It takes everyone’s leadership to move from surviving to thriving!

To make this happen, the Extension Foundation offers individual and team coaching, grant support, and quality membership offerings. The people we serve are very busy professionals so the flexibility of our services is paramount. If your team is at a “7”, we can help you and your team members take action to move to an “8” which will feel remarkably different!

What do you want people to know about your services and offerings?

No matter where you are on your leadership journey, we will listen, learn, and help you lead in the most authentic way for you. We strive to be a strong success partner so everyone can become the best version of themselves. We promise you will be seen, heard, and valued no matter where you are in your career. It’s an honor and privilege to be a trusted partner for the people doing such vital work for our nation.

How might teams use the recently updated Healthy Teams Handbook and the Team Health Survey tool?

I am so excited to share the newly updated Healthy Teams Handbook! It’s a resource we originally developed to support New Technologies for Ag Extension (NTAE) project teams. This practical guide offers insights and strategies to help you build and maintain high-performing, collaborative teams. Designed to complement the Team Health Dashboard, a research-backed tool based on Google's “Project Aristotle”, the Healthy Teams Handbook delves into the five key "conditions" essential for effective teamwork:

  • Psychological safety
  • Dependability
  • Structure and clarity
  • Meaning
  • Impact

By understanding and fostering these conditions, you can create a more positive and productive team environment, ultimately leading to better Extension outcomes.

People come together for many reasons. They all desire to have an impact in some way to make our world a little better. To do this they need to become a team. With the survey and handbook, they can have a common language to discuss timeless aspects of how to become a highly effective team. Taking time to reflect on the experience you’re having together in any endeavor is time well spent because healthy teams have more impact. The connection and extension of their talents is what great teamwork is all about.

What do you see as the most important leadership trends that are relevant to Cooperative Extension?

We hear from people all across the country about how Cooperative Extension is the best-kept secret. To build on the success of the first 100 years of Extension and serve the nation in the next century it will take everyone’s collective best. It will take leadership rooted in courage to grow as individuals and blossom into people who get things accomplished with others. Caring for each other and the people of our nation will take truly human leadership. Trends with labels will come and go just like they always have. By embracing the impact we can have together on critical issues, we can transform Extension from a secret to an even more significant force for good.

Editor’s Note: The Extension Foundation offers a wealth of leadership development resources for Extension professionals. Take the Team Health Survey and gain valuable insights into your team's strengths and areas for improvement. Access the Healthy Teams Handbook for practical strategies to build high-performing teams. Explore the Extension Foundation's Leadership Development offerings to further enhance your team's capabilities.

This work is supported by New Technologies for Agriculture Extension grant no. 2020-41595-30123 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations
expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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About the Extension Foundation

The Extension Foundation was formed in 2006 by Extension Directors and Administrators. Today, the Foundation partners with Cooperative Extension through liaison roles and a formal plan of work with the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) to increase system capacity while providing programmatic services, and helping Extension programs scale and investigate new methods and models for implementing programs. The Foundation provides professional development to Cooperative Extension professionals and offers exclusive services to its members. In 2020 and 2021, the Extension Foundation has awarded 85% of its direct funding back to the Cooperative Extension System, 100% of funds are used to support Cooperative Extension initiatives. 

This technology is supported in part by New Technologies for Ag Extension (funding opportunity no. USDA-NIFA-OP-010186), grant no. 2023-41595-41325 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Extension Foundation. For more information, please visit You can view the terms of useat

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