April 14, 2024

Two ideas to help the farm’s next leaders learn on the job

As a farm leader, you’re used to getting things done, making sure all the work that needs to be completed in the operation is happening like clockwork.

Because many farmers started their career working mainly on the production side, they got used to getting the work done themselves. That can be a great way to begin as a young farmer.

Getting all that hands-on experience is important because the farmer can learn how to do just about everything in terms of operations and labor.

This is helpful for future farm leaders because they get a clear sense of the full operational picture and what it takes to get everything done.

Where To Focus

Here’s what can happen, though, when that same farmer enters more of a leadership role in the operation.

As leaders take on more responsibility for management, they may still feel pulled toward all the operational tasks that they used to do, rather than the business and financial focus that their new role requires.

This is an instance where doing the same things that made them successful in their previous role probably won’t bring them and their farm success in their new leadership role.

It takes a mindset shift away from working in the farm and more toward working on the farm business.

One thing that can help future aspiring farm leaders avoid this trap is to start working on building a business-focused mindset early on.

Once you’ve identified someone as a future leader in your operation, you can start bringing them into the business decision-making little by little.

If you farm with family members, it may be even more important to consider how you can create a professional farm operation.

I’m not talking about setting up legal entities, but about how you mix business with family. There are ways to do this that are very professional and help you operate first and foremost as a business.

Two Ways

Here are a couple ideas for how to get started:

• Have your future leader shadow you and other leaders who are responsible for business decision-making in the operation. This begins as easily as taking them along to meetings with your lenders, landlords, business advisers and suppliers. At first, they don’t need to participate much other than paying close attention, asking any questions and debriefing with you after the meeting. You can talk with them afterward about what they observed, explain anything they have questions about and discuss how you handled various topics and issues during the meeting. They can learn a lot this way, with the next step being giving them more involved specific roles or portions of the meeting to handle, while you’re still there to observe and help, if needed.

• Carve out a certain area of the farm business and put them in charge of all decision-making for that area. You can begin this process slowly to help them build their confidence. They can start by shadowing your decision-making. Talk them through your thought process whenever you make a major decision. Then move on to asking them to take you through their thought process about a major decision that needs to be made. This can help you determine how much they already understand and how they think. As both of you become more comfortable, you can hand them the decision-making bit by bit for that area, until they are fully responsible for that area. For that first area, choose something they are already reasonably comfortable with in terms of their experience and skill.

Darren Frye

Darren Frye

Darren Frye is president and CEO of Water Street Solutions.