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Why farm leadership matters

The farmer who chooses to lead has a competitive advantage over those who just manage.

Tim Schaefer, Founder

February 16, 2023

3 Min Read
Three farmers standing in field at sunset
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Old employee management and leadership techniques can be a bottleneck to farm growth and profitability. There comes a time on most farms when the founders cannot do all the work. They need the help of family or employees.

It’s at that point the farmer must follow the principles of leadership over management.

Have you ever been frustrated with your employees, a family member, or even yourself? We all have.

Do you sometimes feel the “people” side of the business is getting in the way of farming? That keeping employees on task and motivated is taking too much time?

Do your employees follow your lead because they have to or because they are inspired by your vision?

Do you spend most of your time managing the whirlwind, or leading?

Good managers control a group in order to achieve an objective. 

Leadership is the ability to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute to the success of the farm. Management and leadership may seem close in definition, but they are miles apart in practice. The results, over time, are profoundly different.

Learned leadership

When we raise the topic of leadership during coaching for farm owners, there tends to be some unease. The word makes folks uncomfortable. But I believe much of the discomfort comes from the idea that leadership only comes in one form. That leadership requires rousing speeches and storming the beaches like Patton.

Research has shown leadership is not for a select few with special qualities. It can be learned. I tend to prefer the definitions of James Kouzes and Barry Posner. They present five core principles of effective leadership.

Here are the five best practices of a leader. How many resonate with you?

  1. Leaders model the traits and behaviors they expect from others. They treat everyone with respect, manage conflict, and are good listeners. They set clear expectations on how the work gets done and how people interact with each other.

  2. Leaders share the vision. Leaders passionately believe in their vision and inspire others to join. They chart a clear path on how to achieve it. Employees will become more engaged if they can see the goal and how they contribute.

  3. Leaders challenge the status quo; they are not stuck in the past, and always look for better ways to do things. They challenge themselves and encourage others to dispute or test their ideas. Leaders often encourage employees at the bottom to bring their ideas forward for consideration.

  4. Leaders enable and encourage others to act. They don’t dictate every last detail to the employees. Instead, they spend time upfront coaching and training employees to work independently. They are careful and deliberate about who they hire and train so that the employees are able to handle extra authority. Leaders set high standards and goals, then allow employees to work independently.

  5. Leaders have a heart, and it shows in how they encourage and motivate everyone around them. Leaders are quick to compliment and recognize hard work. They celebrate the successes and accomplishments of the farm and those who contribute.

The farmer who chooses to lead has a competitive advantage over those that just manage. Where are your leadership skills right now? Where can you improve today? As the leader of your farm, you have a great opportunity and responsibility. You set the pace, the tone, and the direction of your business. It’s your choice how you lead and everyone else’s choice if they will join you on the journey.

Schaefer is an executive management coach and succession planner for farms and agribusinesses. Read his blog, Transitions and Strategies, at If you have a management or succession planning question, contact [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Tim Schaefer

Founder, Encore Wealth Advisors

Tim Schaefer guides large, successful farm operations, helping them get and keep a competitive edge. His tools are peer groups via the Encore Executive Farmer Network, transition planning, business growth planning, and executive coaching. His print column, Transitions & Strategies, appears regularly in Farm Futures and online at He is a Certified Family Business Advisor, Certified Business Coach and Certified Financial Planner. Raised on a successful family farm, his first business venture was selling sweet corn door to door with an Oliver 70.

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