Leadership Skills that have come in handy this winter on the farm

In starting up the farm, there have been a number of skills from prior career lives that have proven very valuable.  This winter, I have come to appreciate the importance of those skills, and share these with hopes that not only in farming, but in business or in life, they may be of value to you.

Be Ready – Things happen fast on the farm.  An early November rain caused a bed of tulips to disappear.  While the rain had been predicted, the volume and intensity had not.

I had gone through the morning chores and was finishing some paperwork up in the office.  When I came home that afternoon, everything looked good.  Upon finishing (I thought) the nightly chores, I walked by the bed in the front, only to discover half of it was gone.   Several of the bulbs were salvaged from the runoff, and I re-made the bed.  Top of the list of next days activities was to dig a trench around that bed.

There are a lot of things that happen on the farm, and they can happen quickly.

A good leader is looking ahead for items that come up unannounced; problems that steal energies and focus.  When problems do show up, a good leader will adjust the plan to move forward.

2.  Be systematic – Many people look at farming and think of the idyllic simple life.  One of the greatest draws for us to this lifestyle was the simple life.  That being said, the simple life is not so simple when you have lots of things to do.  Many of the things are not hard, they just require you to be there.  Sort of like the button in the hatch on Lost; if someone didn’t key the numbers in, the island would blow up.  Not hard, but it did require doing.

Setting up systems has been a key part of the ability to add new items to the farm.  When winter started, I did not have a good system for the chickens.  Each morning’s routine was an additional 10 minutes of work, because conditions had changed.  A few hours of work and the new systems were in place, and we were back to a standard 5 minute routine each morning again.

A good leader seeks disciplined systems that allow for uniformity of the day to day stuff, while encouraging creativity in meeting new challenges that always come up.  A good leader makes adjustments to systems when environments change.

Be Flexible – On the farm, there are no titles.  One day you are a ditch digger, the next the marketing director, while on the third day you are the seeding engineer.  Whether you are working alone, or working with a team, you need to understand the tasks that are needed so that you can help react quickly.  You also need to be willing to wear multiple hats.

Two of my greatest leadership mentors have been models of servant leadership – they would never tell you that they are servant leaders, but every word, action and decision they make is servant led.

Leaders must be willing to pitch in to lead from the front, the side or the rear as the occasion calls for it.  A good leader will take on tasks that no one wants to do – because that leader understands the importance of the team, and that first and foremost, they are a member of the team – not the leader.  

Be Patient – This seems to fly in opposition to the first item, but really it compliments the first item.     Farms by natures are exercises in patience.  The most rapid growing plants still are running about 45 days in the ground.  Lots of stuff can and will happen during those periods.

Winter is even worse.  Several of the mentors that I look up to in the farm arena have confessed to digging up plants to check the root growth.  Ice and mud slows down machinery, fewer hours of sun means less working hours outside, and less production.

A good leader must have a strong faith in the team, the systems, and the plan, and must share that faith.  Any trip worth taking, takes time, and invariably doubt will creep in.  A good leader can help make that trip a positive growing opportunity for all by keeping the faith.

Four simple truths that I have come across in my travels –
Be Ready
Be Systematic
Be Flexible
Be Patient

They are helping us as we build the farm.

Enjoy the journey friends.

-Richard

 

PS – if you want to read more observations of farm life, check out the first article in a series called a Season on the Farm.