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July 7, 2020

COVID-19 Presents Greatest Leadership Challenge of our Lifetime

 |  By: Jim Dickrell

Today likely presents the greatest leadership opportunity for essentially every owner, leader, supervisor, and even individual in our lifetime,” says Bob Milligan, a management consultant and labor specialist with Dairy Strategies, LLC.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented challenge in managing dairy operations, and has likely created feelings of uncertainty, frustration, anger, fear, loneliness, and even depression. This is true for not only owners and managers but for every employee as they cope with this crisis.

“People are craving communication, connections, and feelings of belonging, says Milligan. “Today's leadership opportunity is to connect with your people and develop a sense that we and the farm/business will get through this together.”

He offers these 8 ways dairy business leaders can create this sense of togetherness: 

  • Be Visible. Always say "hello' and be friendly. This may be contrary to how you are feeling personally, but your responsibility as a leader is to structure your behaviors to meet the needs of your people.
  • Provide positive feedback and show appreciation. These are always valuable but never more so than today.
  • Be clear. There is uncertainty everywhere. The clarity you provide about expectations, rules, assignments and so on will be truly appreciated. Lack of clarity simply adds to the level of uncertainty.
  • Consistently communicate. This could be a weekly email or text, so everyone knows what is happening on the farm or business. Also, it is a great place to share successes on and off the farm and current events like birthdays, births, etc.
  • Ask for input. Involve your people in planning and decision-making. You do not want to traverse this crisis alone so build the team to help you.
  • Provide redirection feedback. For everyone to succeed and grow, feedback is critical.
  • Address conflicts with care and empathy. In essentially every case of conflict, both parties have some culpability. Consider starting the discussion by admitting your culpability and apologize if necessary. Then move to resolve the conflict.
  • Be more of a leader and a friend - and less of a boss.

“Engaging employees and team members in these collaborative discussions is not easy,” Milligan acknowledge. The one way not to do it is to use your formal authority as a boss telling everyone to collaborate.

“Free flowing input, collaboration and team spirit can only be achieved through leadership using [soft] informal power to engage team members to rally to a better future,” Milligan concludes.