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Leadership: Country Guide Magazine Series: Empowerment

Leadership surrounds me in my daily work with farm families across Ontario. One thing our succession conversations always circle back to is leadership, both in theory and in practice and we all know practice part is the difficult part. We are still learning to wrap our heads around what collaborative leadership looks like in the farming community across multiple generations. For me, leadership in action has become a big “aha” moment, both in my extensive farm experience and my education in coaching farm families through these courageous conversations. My “aha” moment has compelled me to keep talking about this issue and share the wisdom I have accrued in my lifetime, and through the hundreds of family conversations I have facilitated in my career. In last month’s article I spoke about collaboration, which to me is arguably the most important leadership quality one can possess. In part two of this series, I want to expand on that. While collaboration starts the process and sets the stage for the next generation to develop leadership skills and get involved, if we are not empowering those leaders with meaningful responsibility, the failure falls back to us and our own lack of leadership. Some of the most successful multi-generation farm families I work with have adopted an approach of fostering and mentoring these young farmers as they grow up alongside their current leaders. In most cases the younger generation is eager; they are wanting a chance to showcase their leadership abilities and the ideas they have. Our role is to empower them and their confidence in making these decisions.

I’m encouraged when I see this happen on the farm. Families empowering the next generation to take on responsibilities others would be more cautious to relinquish, or make decisions they normally wouldn’t. These families work together and discuss the logic behind the work they do; why they planted what they did this year and why now is the time to expand capacity and not one year from now. I have one family who sits around the table weekly with their son and daughter and debrief on the decisions that were made that week with the father sharing stories of similar decisions he made at that age. This family is supportive of one another and the current generation is given exposure to the same opportunities to take risks that he had when he was working under his father. Arguably, that leadership shown by the previous generation is what is setting this family up to succeed in the future.

Empowerment comes in many different forms but some of the most practical ways to utilize it is similar to the idea of letting go of control and being willing to accept mistakes. It’s about the father that allows his daughter to go out and work the ground even though he knows she is too anxious and will end up miring the tractor. The real test in our own leadership comes from letting this decision be made and having the supportive and constructive reaction when our child makes mistakes. It cannot be viewed as a failure by the daughter, but rather a celebration by the parents that they raised a child who felt confident enough to take this risk in a safe and supportive environment. I watched this unfold one night when I was with the family. And instead of this man getting upset, he explained to his daughter that he did the same thing when he was that age and then spoke of how a better choice for drier, higher ground would work up nicely while the other piece of land dried out further.

I see leadership shining in a dairy farming family who at a very young age had their three children involved in various roles on the farm. They empowered their children by exposing them to good opportunities for growth. This family let their children grow up and find their place on the farm by giving them each complimentary roles, with little to no overlap. One manages herd health and discussing impact of changes to cow comfort. The other focuses on feed quality, leading the field and decisions and monitoring milk production. The third on genetics, making good choices when selecting new breeding to bring into the herd. This is rare on a family farm – but important – it allows for clear focus on strengths of each individual. I now see these young farmers in their mid twenties and I am proud to have watched them grow up and find their place within the family business. They are bringing their parents great ideas for growth and opportunities for further success. This next generation is empowered and they are showcasing their own leadership each time these ideas are brought forward. And when their ideas are implemented, that empowerment is growing stronger.

Practicing leadership takes time. It takes patience. And it takes a lot of courage to let them try but it can be a positive experience if you are alongside them and cultivating growth of the next generation. Much like our farming business, we are the ones who need to plant the seeds of encouragement. It isn’t supposed to be easy, it is supposed to be difficult. If it was easy, everyone would have done it.

Darrell Wade is a Certified Family Enterprise Advisor and a CFA Certified Farm Advisor. He is the founder of Farm Life Financial Planning Group and can reached directly at

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