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Developing a future farm leader? Think ahead

Farm leaders of the future may need different skills.

When you’re thinking about the future of your farm operation, one of the most important questions to be asking is: Who? Who will be involved in our operation in the future? In what ways will they be involved? Will there be a mix of family members and non-family employees?

It can be a bit overwhelming to think about, but a large part of the future potential and success of your operation is tied to its future leader. First of all, who are they, as a person? Do they have a desire to lead? What strengths and weaknesses do they bring to the table?

What prior experience do they have that makes them qualified to run the farm (or what experience are they currently working to gain)? What are they doing now to acquire and practice the leadership skills they’ll need in order to run the farm?

Where will the future leader be?

One of the most important things to keep in mind is: What will a future farm leader need to focus on? In other words, in what areas will the leader be spending the majority of their time in the future? What types of problems will they need to know how to solve?

Farms have become increasingly business-savvy, and farm leaders have stepped up their leadership and management skills in order to continue running competitive businesses. That’s a trend I don’t foresee going away in the future.

In fact, future leaders will likely need to have an even higher level of skill in areas like financial management, human resources and landlord relations. The ‘soft’ skills of leadership will factor heavily into the success of the operation.

Of course, all of this is on top of whether the farmer can grow a great crop and train employees in ‘their way’ of doing things. Production will still always be key – it’s at the core of farming, after all – but leadership skills will increasingly determine whether the operation is successful.

Planning for leadership success

If you’ve already determined your successor leader, they must practice and hone their skills in the areas where they’ll be spending the most time in the future – developing strong financial skills, people skills and management skills. This means increasing their hands-on experience with the type of issues and tasks that you’re probably the main one dealing with now.

Does that make you envision having to hand off all those responsibilities to them suddenly? Remember that this handoff doesn’t need to – and shouldn’t – happen all at once. That would be too overwhelming for both of you.

Sit down with your successor leader and create a long-term plan together – the types of skills they’ll need the most and how the two of you plan that they will acquire those skills. What are the most critical areas? How will you determine that they have gained proficiency in a given skill?

As part of your successor leader’s development, you can recommend they start listening to the Modern Farm Business podcast, as it focuses on the leadership skills that future farm leaders will need to be proficient in – and you may find benefits from this free resource to enhance your leadership, as well.

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

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