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Leader and manager: It takes both

Often, the business owner was the leader and the spouse was the manager who carried out the wishes of the leader.

David Kohl, Contributing Writer, Corn+Soybean Digest

January 13, 2020

2 Min Read
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In my travels, much discussion occurs concerning leadership. However, the most powerful and effective combination is a leader and a manager. Let's take a few moments to contrast and compare the specific characteristics of each skill set.

Leaders are often focused on the big picture. They have a long-term perspective by viewing the business from 30,000 feet or from the horizon. One characteristic that differentiates the leader's competencies is that they have a focus on people and realize that collaboration with the human interface is critical to success. The leader is proactive and can adapt to situations and new environments as they occur or evolve. A leader has the ability to inspire trust in those around them. The leader often challenges the status quo, thinks outside the box, and thinks about the unintended consequences by asking who, what, where, when, and why. They can come across as overbearing, doing their own thing, and, in some circles, are considered to be a maverick.

A good leader understands that having a good manager behind them can make them shine. The manager implements the strategy within the established core values, mission, and vision. Managers often use spreadsheets to run the business and monitor the bottom line. They also place controls on the leader’s systems. Structure within the business is critical because managers often want to know how and when tasks will be completed. As they administer, managers can be seen as steady and accepting the status quo. They are often tasked with paying the bills, servicing the debt, and meeting compliance requirements.

Historically, leader and manager roles have been successful in the agriculture industry. Often, the business owner was the leader and the spouse was the manager who carried out the wishes of the leader. This partnership was very critical for success during the farm crisis of the 1980s.

Fast-forward to today's world with consolidated, larger businesses and entrepreneurial ventures where the players have changed. While the business owners are often the leaders, the manager roles are being filled by a chief financial officer (CFO) or a chief operating officer (COO). While some of these roles will be occupied by family members such as cousins, nephews, brothers, and sisters, others will come from outside the family.

This change in structure establishes the importance of business planning, the development of business IQ, and the formality of the business. Having a defined business structure with strong leaders and managers increases the flow of communication throughout the operation of the business to ensure continued success.

Want to catch Kohl in action? Join us for the Farm Futures Summit, January 23 and 24, 2020. Learn more at

The opinions of Dr. David Kohl are not necessarily those of Farm Progress.

About the Author(s)

David Kohl

Contributing Writer, Corn+Soybean Digest

Dr. Dave Kohl is an academic Hall of Famer in the College of Agriculture at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va. Dr. Kohl has keen insight into the agriculture industry gained through extensive travel, research, and involvement in ag businesses. He has traveled over 10 million miles; conducted more than 7,000 presentations; and published more than 2,500 articles in his career. Dr. Kohl’s wisdom and engagement with all levels of the industry provide a unique perspective into future trends.

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