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Are you a good farm leader? 5 principles you should adopt

gpointstudio/ThinkstockPhotos Farmers standing by tractor looking at phone.
Your farm may only be able to grow as fast as your ability to lead.

Employee management and leadership are often bottlenecks to farm growth and profitability. Your farm may only be able to grow as fast as your ability to lead.

For example, Robert is a hands-on farmer who at the age of 55 has built a profitable farm of around 3,000 acres. He has always hired full and part-time help and has always been the go-to guy throughout the day for every question. His son is back from college, but hasn’t stepped up and taken over responsibility like Robert thinks he should. 

Robert is increasingly frustrated, because he has an opportunity to add 1,000 acres to the business, but is already feeling stretched thin.

There comes a time on most farms when all the work cannot be done by the founder. The farmer needs the help of employees and/or family. It’s at that point the farmer must follow the principles of leadership.

  • Have you ever been frustrated with your employees, a family member, or even yourself?
  • Do you sometimes feel the “people” side of the business is getting in the way of farming?
  • Do your employees follow your lead because they have to or because they want to?
  • Do you spend most of your time managing or leading? There is a difference.

Research has shown leadership is not for a select few with special qualities. Leadership can be learned by many and applied on your farm, including the founder as well as the next generation.  

Leadership has been studied by many including researchers James Kouzes and Barry Posner, and they present five core principles every leader should adopt.

  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 not only on how the work gets done, but also how people interact with each other. For example, do you expect your employees to be on time but you are always late? Do you sometimes lose your temper in front of your employees?
  2. Leaders Share the Vision of where the farm is going with everyone on the farm team. Leaders passionately believe in their vision and inspire others to join. They create a vision and chart a clear path on how to achieve it. Employees will become more engaged if they can see the goal and how they contribute. Other than growing a crop, do your employees know your long-term vision and the role they play in it?
  3. Leaders Challenge the status quo, are not stuck in the past, and are always looking for better ways to do things. They challenge themselves and aren’t afraid when others dispute or test their ideas. Leaders often encourage employees at the bottom to bring their ideas forward for consideration. Do you shoot employees down when they come up with a new way of doing things because “that’s just not the way we do it around here”? Do you encourage employees to come up ideas on how to improve the farm?
  4. Leaders Don’t Command & Control every last detail. If a farm is going to grow there isn’t enough time in a day to manage everything. Instead, they coach, mentor, and ultimately create self-managing collaborative teams. They set high standards and goals, and then allow employees to work independently. They believe in hiring employees that don’t require constant supervision. Do your employees come to you with so many questions you can’t focus on the larger strategic plan? There are only so many minutes in each day. Use them wisely on the most important things.
  5. Leaders Have a Heart and it shows with how they encourage and motivate everyone around them. Leaders are quick to give a compliment and recognize that farming is often hard work. They celebrate successes and accomplishments of the farm and those who contribute. Do you give feedback to each employee at least once a week?   

Farmers don’t often think of themselves as leaders, and yet they are. The farmer who chooses to be a leader has a large competitive advantage over those who choose not to lead, but rather manage.

Where are your leadership skills right now? Where can you improve today?

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

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