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The uncomfortable part of leadershipThe uncomfortable part of leadership

How do Millennials step into the role of employee manager?

Maria Cox

September 20, 2016

2 Min Read

I’m going to share a personal secret with you.

Before I share that secret, make sure to read last week’s blog about my participation in the Dekalb/Asgrow NextGen program for young Illinois farmers. Lance Burditt of Water Street Solutions spoke on managing employees.

Now here’s the secret: I’m uncomfortable managing employees.

I knew before returning to the farm that I might have employee troubles. It became apparent after a couple of weeks back at the farm that we would have some big problems with one of our employees. I felt like I was thrown into the wolves as the newest member of the farm team, but also as the boss’ daughter. One employee in particular just couldn’t handle my presence on our farm. Was it because I was invading his territory? Was it my age or gender? It was probably all of those. We ended up firing a 20-year employee because he simply didn’t fit our system anymore.

These issues aren’t uncommon. Many of the farmers my age are part of family operations where the father or mother makes most of the employee decisions. I work with men ranging from age 26 to 76. A couple of those guys remember me in diapers.

I asked a neighbor who recently returned to the family farm about how he and his dad handle employees. He told me the employees are used to looking to his dad for guidance. He recalled the struggle with being a friend versus a manager to his employees.

I, too, struggle with the fine line between being a coworker or a manager. At first, I fit the role of a co-worker. I rented land, paid Dad for equipment, and also worked for him. Today, I own a share of the business and sign employee checks. The transition has been made on paper, but the daily decisions are made by both of us. At what point does employee management fall 100% on my shoulders? It is a difficult question to answer. What I’ve realized is that this transition is a process and does not happen overnight.

My dad has been farming with employees for more than 40 years. I’ve noticed what he has done right. Dad treats employees with respect. He doesn’t micromanage people and cultivates a positive workplace. Dad is great with managing workflow through the different seasons. He is the master of looking to the future. At this point, I’m observing how he manages people and am slowly working into that role.

New farmers, how are you stepping into management? Veteran farmers, how are you turning over employee management to the next generation? I’d love some feedback.

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Penton Agriculture.

About the Author(s)

Maria Cox


Maria Cox is a sixth generation grain, livestock, and hay farmer from White Hall, Ill.  She has been farming with her family since 2012, and also has experience in grain marketing and crop insurance.  She holds a M.S. in Agricultural Economics from Purdue University and a B.S. in Agribusiness from the University of Illinois. You can find her online at www.coxlandandcattleinc.com and twitter @mariacoxfarm.

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