March 6, 2019

Even In Hard Times, You Can Work To Be A Better Leader

 |  By: Jane Hillstrom

Vince Lombardi, former coach of the Green Bay Packers, said, “It’s not whether you get knocked down; It is whether you get back up.” In challenging times, it is important to ask ourselves how we can improve, grow and tackle the business world. Part of “getting back up” is becoming a stronger leader. It is a process of continuous improvement. I visited with Walt Ogburn, Management Consultant, FYP Consulting, to talk about connecting dairy farming and leadership. 

Through leadership farmers can step forward and direct the path to the future they design. Why should farmers advance their leadership skills? 

Walt: In the last generation, dairy farms have changed dramatically. In the past, a dairy farmer could be successful by being good at knowing and managing cows. Today, knowing and managing cows is still critical — in some ways even more critical than a generation ago — but its’s not sufficient to ensure the dairy is successful. To survive and thrive going forward, the individuals who are running the dairy must be able to lead their team (employees and advisors) toward a positive future. Without strong and focused leaders, the team doesn’t know what game they are playing, or what their role is in helping the team win.

How can strong leadership affect their future?

Walt: Each dairy is unique and as such it must be managed and led in a unique manner. It’s the role of the leader to determine where the business is going and share that vision with their managers, decision makers and advisors so everyone is following the same map. If there is no true leader, everyone will manage as they see fit to achieve either the short-term goals they or their manager have defined. There is not likely to be a strategy to differentiate their dairy from other dairies and to adapt to the competitive nature of the dairy business in 2019 and beyond.

What is the difference between leadership and management? 

Management is dealing with tasks, and leading is empowering people to accomplish the tasks. Another way to differentiate the two is to remember that management typically is focused on speed or efficiency in getting things done and leadership typically is focused on direction and vision of the organization.

What makes a good leader?

There are many styles of leadership, but I believe all effective leaders have the willingness and ability to look to the future and determine where the organization needs to go. However, if they do this on their own and don’t get input from others involved with the organization, their vision is unlikely to be attained. Great leaders work with others to define and shape this vision, while clearly communicating the vision to their managers. In doing so, they create such enthusiasm for executing the needed tasks that everyone in the organization is committed to doing their part to reach that vision.

Do you have books on leadership you can recommend?

My favorite book on leadership is “The One Thing You Need to Know” by Marcus Buckingham. My second favorite book is “It’s Your Ship” by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff. A more academic, but valuable, book on leadership is “The Extraordinary Leader” by John H. Zenger & Joseph R. Folkman.

Local communities, regions and our country need strong leaders. How valuable is it for farmers to use their leadership skills to affect change beyond the farm?

I actually look at leadership within the community from two perspectives. First, how can a dairy leader have a positive impact on their community by sharing their leadership talent? And second, how can a dairy benefit from drawing in great leaders from within their community to help develop and execute the vision for the future? I know time is a huge limiting factor, but if the leaders of our industry can volunteer their time to provide leadership to businesses and non-profits, the dairy leaders will become more aware of what is happening within their community, and they will help others outside of agriculture know what their dairy is and why it’s important to the community.

In addition, I feel dairy owners should be looking outside of ag for great leaders who would be willing to be involved with vision and strategy sessions for the dairy. If you add one or two non-ag leaders to your strategic planning teams, you will get new perspectives and gain the added benefit of taking advantage of their approach to leadership.

For more information on becoming a good leader, see these articles:

Through Dairy Crisis, Know What's Important

Don't Be A Victim Of Collateral Damage

Show Non-Farming Neighbors You Care