We talk about the way family farm founders, dairy managers, consultants and suppliers need to be passionate, committed and courageous in leading their dairy businesses. We enjoy giving glowing praise to those who have inspired us to take exceptional action or to dig deeper to solve a problem or gave us the guts to make uncomfortable changes. We include ourselves in that group of aging role models. But what happens when there is an ever-widening gap developing between the measurable achievements? Indeed, what happens when those who lead the pack are not ready or willing to hand over the baton.
These Days Are We Still Proud or Are We Just Loud?
When we start something, and grow it into a successful enterprise, we are justifiably proud of the distance we have come. We know how much hard work, inspiration and vision went into getting the operation off the ground. We are proud of growing and maintaining the legacy of those before us. But sometimes we get so hung up on simply hanging on that we are a detriment to continued growth. Loud whining is very different from proud leading.
Sometimes Taking the Most Important Step Means Stepping Away
There are definitely times when you look back and congratulate yourself on taking center stage. Tough or easy, you had the target painted on your back, and you accepted responsibility. Being in the driver’s seat of a dairy business means traveling down a long and winding road. We sometimes need to be reminded that, on any journey, it’s important to pay attention to the stop signs! Here’re eight stop signs that you may be missing or ignoring.
#1: “No one could do what I do as well as I do it!”
If you just shouted “Right on!”, then please step away from your computer! It’s wonderful to have a great track record but what does the record show recently, when it comes to moving ahead with new technology, new management methods, new breeding strategies and a new nutrition program? The belief that the status quo is the way to go just means that YOU need to go. And furthermore- If you use the phrase: “By the time I show someone how to do it, I could just do it myself” Step aside. If your team really can’t do the work as well as you can, whose fault is that? Did you fail to train them? Or train them to fail? Fire yourself!
#2: You resent young upstarts who haven’t struggled like you did and yet seem to feel that they are entitled to be your equal.
This is a big one. If you hold resentment toward people (family, staff, partners or consultants) who haven’t been through what you have and who, heaven forbid, rely on book learning instead of years of experience, this could be a sign that you have passed your own best-before date. The measure of success isn’t the path taken or the length and bumpiness of the road. Success is measured in results. Are you interested in results or longevity? Progress or control? What are you afraid of. If you answer is “I am afraid of retirement!” Fire yourself!
PS If the only ones you resent are “those girls” or “the women” who aspire to work in your exclusively male domain. Fire yourself! Do it now!
#3: You’re worried about the financial Implications.
Are you waiting for the economy to improve, before you’ll give up control? You have come through challenges. Have a little faith that others can do the same. You may not be ready to let others make financial decisions, but are your decisions making or breaking the bank? Do you find yourself cutting corners to save money, doing the best you can on your own in order to avoid paying someone else for services? Are you cutting costs on feed or supplies even though it may affect your herd health and production and therefore reduce your actual profits? Cutbacks can be costly. At the other extreme, when seeing ourselves in the role of “top” boss, we give ourselves permission to break some rules by giving bigger discounts for our products or services to our “special” customers? Do you find your customers or suppliers always asking for a deal? Are you demonstrating your power or are you eating away at your margins? You need to recognize that your control may be inefficient, wasteful, and inducing costs that work against the very profitability you are hoping for. If you don’t fire yourself at this point, you will eventually be out of work. Fire yourself!
#4: You think long hours are a measure of success.
Dairying is 24/7, but burnout is not a benchmark for success. Past a certain point, working more hours rarely makes you more productive. A study showed that, if you’re regularly working past 50 hours a week, your productivity is likely going to drop. That same study from Stanford also reported that people who work as much as 70 hours (or more) per week actually get the same amount done as people who work 55 hours. “But” you object, “they’re probably not farmers!” You’re right. That is why pacing yourself and delegating and strategically planning workloads is something that successful dairy farmers become very good at. There is no point in becoming an ornery, grumpy curmudgeon just because your martyr complex won’t let anyone else share the load. If you feel like you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders – fire yourself.
#5: You expect praise for your efforts but don’t hand much of it out.
Do you insist on doing your job and other people’s jobs too? We all have strengths and when you have capable family or staff, let them lead with theirs. Strong leaders recognize where others add value, and make space for true collaboration. Don’t try to do it all. Especially when someone else might do it better. Do you find yourself detouring around family or staff in any meeting with suppliers, customers, or strategic partners? If you are the only star, what does that make your staff. Do you feel frustrated with staff who are not proactive, who only do what they’re told, who depend on you for decisions and seem unable to think strategically? Do customers always ask to speak to you instead of your staff? If you’re the reason, fire yourself!
#6: Everything has to go through you.
If your team can’t make a decision, or work is held up because you’ve not yet reviewed or approved it, it’s time to question how enabling you really are. You may not even be conscious of the tone you set, but sometimes a team’s hesitancy to make a call stems from your bad habit of reversing decisions. It’s either that or they’re unclear about what you want. Do people know what you expect? It’s great to be a champion, a guide, and even a director when needed. But don’t be a bottleneck. Learn to be clear on your expectations. Learn to take a backseat in decision making. If you’re hired as “Manager,” you may not be prepared to or able to fire yourself. But you should always have the best interests of the dairy business at heart. Learn to appreciate the new technology and ideas that the younger generation may bring. If you own the operation, learn to change your title from “Farm Manager” to “Farm Owner.” For those of you who are at this stage, Congratulations!! You’ve built your dairy business. Now it’s time to enjoy seeing it evolve further. I hope you can let go quickly enough to take advantage of it. Fire yourself!
#7: You don’t trust your team to represent your work.
Clarifying roles and responsibilities is helpful. Once you’ve done this, it’s important to stay in your lane. If a project is heading into a ditch, by all means, step in. Otherwise, clarify your goals and expectations, then trust people to get the job done. Don’t insert yourself just because you can, or because you feel the need to appear in control. Leading from the sidelines has its place. If we want to enable meaningful contributions from everyone and maximize the talent available, it’s important that you either find your correct place…and learn to occupy it gracefully … or fire yourself!
#8: You are not ready or willing to change roles.
When you first started out in farming, you handled everything: chores, milking, breeding; finances; planting and harvesting; buying and selling; builder; plumber and all round handyman.
Over time and with the changing nature of modern dairying, you were probably required to focus on other things, and you coped with that. Now changes include team building, training, and management, to name a few things that need to be on the priority list. When we as owners or managers refuse to relinquish control, we negatively affect growth. Call it fear or call it pride; that hesitation causes harm. We have now become stumbling blocks. Don’t get me wrong! Many of us have used our strengths and still have some to offer. But if we are not very good at running today’s operations under changed circumstances we have to admit it. Change happens whether we are ready or not. For many of you, your operation still needs you… For some of you, your business can do without you. Either accept your new role or fire yourself!
8 STOP SIGNS PLUS ONE!!
So, there you have it. If you read through this list of stops signs and recognized yourself —- check, check, check, check, check —then it’s time for you to check out. Fire yourself!!
THE BULLVINE BOTTOM LINE
Don’t make your biggest regret that you waited too long to fire yourself. If you have the best interest of your dairy operation at heart, then you will be wise enough to know when the time has come to be the “wind beneath the wings” of the next generation. Are you ready to give your dairy an advantage?