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Leadership: Country Guide Magazine Series: Get More For The Family

The balancing act.

I have been the witness to several successful farm operations over the last number of years. I count myself lucky; as someone who can see what innovation, smart business practice and communication can result in on family farms. The majority of what I see doesn’t surprise me. And it frustrates me when people act surprised about these innovations and how well run our farms are. Farmers are smart. They are educated and many have been taking risks for decades and are finally reaping the rewards. It doesn’t surprise me and it never really has as I encounter more and more farm leaders. It still makes me smile and makes me proud, but I will never be someone who is surprised by it.

Now of course I would be remiss to say that I haven’t seen operations that could use some improvements or suggestions on how to be more efficient with their resources. We see some struggle with their business – sometimes too many balls in the air with no real clear strategy or focus. Sometimes they have beef, dairy, crops, trucking, custom farming. And for some, those can be successful if they have the proper governance structures in place. But most fail because there is no clear strategy. They lack focus in any one area.

When we work with farm families, one of our first meetings is to uncover the individual family members goals and visions for success. Then, when we bring the entire family together, we identify the common goals and together co-create the aligned family vision for success. This allows our families to clearly see where they need to focus their efforts and resources to reach their goals for continuity of the family farm.

One of the most challenging parts of finding the focus is making everyone comfortable to share their personal perspective. The key is to create a safe environment for all members of the family to openly share their thoughts and feelings around the future of the family farm. We create the environment by giving each individual family member an opportunity to speak freely to us in confidence.

I am a firm believer that in todays world, specialization is one key factor of success. By focusing attention and resources on one aspect of the farm versus multiple sources of business revenue, it becomes apparent how successful and efficient a farm can become.

For families with various lines of business, the ability to focus on leveraging the families’ unique resources and abilities are critical to success. This is best described as the “familiness” advantage; when they leverage everyone’s strengths or key abilities, creating an advantage over others that don’t focus on their strengths. The family that has two or more children involved in the family business is often successful when they have the next generation working in an area of strength, focusing on their unique abilities. This means having confidence and instilling leadership values in our children and not micro-managing the next generation, both of which I spoke about in my previous articles. This allows each family member to focus deeply in an area they are passionate in and feel naturally comfortable and confident in their role and can drive the business to new levels of success. Each member of the family can bring the power of focus to one aspect of the operation.

Great leadership qualities require an ability to balance the focus and energy of people while keeping an eye on the results of the business. In other words, it is important to see the milk production go up, but not at the cost of losing or abusing good people involved in growing those numbers. We shouldn’t be trying to fit people into roles that they are not strong in, or have a lack of understanding how it fits into the long-term vision of the family business. If a family goal has been identified as increasing milk production, focusing efforts on both the right person and the right strategy to do so is the way to reach this goal. When we focus on strategy only, we lose that familiness advantage. We lose the advantage to allow the person who is best suited for the role to focus on achieving this goal.

We need to have everyone pulling the rope in the same direction and good leadership will help everyone focus on the long-term goal, success today means one thing – but long term most want to see family harmony balance with family legacy.

I have seen families who only have their eye on the results or the finish line. They have not looked at the importance of establishing governance and allowing their team to learn and grow. It is our generations responsibility to show the next generation how important that balance is if we want to increase the success of continuity in our family farms.

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