What does it mean to be a leader on your farm?

Employees are an important and valuable resource on the farm and your leadership has an impact on their performance and their longevity on the farm.

What does it mean to be a leader? According to John Maxwell, “leadership is influence”.  Being a leader means that your influence causes people to willingly follow you.  Sometimes as farm owners/managers we forget how powerful the “willingly” part of following is.  Sometimes we settle for just being the boss and that can mean that people follow you only because they are required to.  Employees are still following you, but are they really being as productive as they can be, and how long will they be content in this kind of job?

As a Michigan State University Extension Educator, I recently participated in a webinar on employee management, broadcast from the Outstanding Young Farmer’ Program in Canada.  The program was great, and is sure to be the topic of future MSUE News articles, but it also led me to search their recorded webinars on human resource topics.  I came across a great webinar by Kellie Garrett, Senior VP for Farm Credit Canada, talking about the leadership topic.  During the webinar Garrett shared several excellent thoughts on increasing the effectiveness of our leadership/influence on our farms.

To be a good leader requires more that “just being right”, we need to be able to “win others over” if they are going to willingly follow us.  The messenger and how we deliver the message is often just as important as the message, when we are trying to influence others.  People are more likely to believe and buy in to the message, when they trust the messenger.  Your employees are more likely to get excited about your ideas and about following you if they first trust you.

Influence is about relationships.  Knowing your employees, who they are and what they value, allows you to share the message in a way that they can relate to.  Be careful in this area though.  You need to be genuinely interested in your employees, not just trying to win them over.  Trust can be broken quickly by the feeling of being manipulated.

Your ability to influence others is also impacted by the confidence you display and the optimism that you bring to the farm.  Your employees need to see that you are excited about your farm and about agriculture, and that you are excited enough to want to be at the top of your game.  Investing in your own personal and professional development is a must for every leader if you are going to remain out in front, leading your employees. 

If you are trying to improve on the area of personnel management, one such professional development opportunity is at the Growing Michigan Agriculture Conference which takes place January 24 at the Lansing Center in Lansing, Mich. The first speaker on the agenda is Dr. Bernie Erven, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University, covering the topic of “Recruiting, Hiring and Keeping Topnotch Labor”.  To learn more about the conference and to register, please go to:  http://bit.ly/MSUGrowing

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