Your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing, once stated Abraham Lincoln.
Ironically, if anyone had excuses for failure, it was Lincoln. With no formal schooling, he became a respected lawyer. After a nervous breakdown, personal tragedies and five defeats at political office, he became the 16th U.S. President.
In agriculture, producers, educators and bankers often speculate why some farmers achieve more. Anecdotal evidence and research show that the difference between accomplishment and failure is often just attitude and perseverance.
As director of The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers (TEPAP), Texas A&M economist Danny Klinefelter knows some of the best farmers in North America. Even among this top tier, there are producers who stand out, Klinefelter says. Controlling costs, keeping good records and sound marketing are essential, but strong management skills alone don’t place top farmers ahead of others, he says.
"The top managers see change and challenges as opportunities and don’t view themselves as victims," Klinefelter says. "They don’t enjoy adversity, but they recognize that setbacks are a part of life. They learn from these setbacks, make adjustments and move on."
Former Top Producer of the Year Chad Olsen, of Hendricks, Minn., is an example of how personal motivation can overcome challenges. At age 22, Olsen survived a devastating fire that consumed his 48-cow dairy herd and barn, leaving him $100,000 in debt. Olsen didn’t give up on farming—he recovered by working odd jobs (including driving a school bus) and launching a custom harvest business on a dime.
Today, Olsen Custom Farms harvests more than 80,000 acres from Texas to Canada. Olsen also farms 5,000 acres in Minnesota and operates a trucking and cattle business. His secret? Olsen says it is keeping a positive attitude and surrounding himself with optimistic people.
Passion First. Top managers don’t get bogged down in self-pity or blaming others for their problems, Klinefelter adds. "They realize that problems can create opportunity only for those who figure out how to solve them first and are prepared to act," he says.
Often, the most effective leaders and managers don’t fit any given stereotype, Klinefelter says. More than 50% of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies had C averages in college, for example. Nearly 75% of U.S. Presidents were in the bottom half of their class.
"Among the distinguishing characteristics of top managers is first their passion and then their attitude," Klinefelter says. "They love what they do and they love doing it. Passion is the first step to significant achievement—it increases willpower, it changes the person and it makes the impossible possible."
As for Lincoln, his thoughts on passion can best be summed up by his opinion of preachers: "I don’t like to hear cut-and-dried sermons. No, when I hear a man preach, I like to see him act as if he were fighting bees."
Characteristics of Top Producers
> Positive attitude
> Focus on production and having consistently high yields
> Understanding of the financials of the business; spend their time where they get the best return on investment
> Well-informed; take the time to adequately plan
> Adopt new technologies quickly and appropriately
> Keep equipment costs in line
Source: Analysis of various top agricultural producer characteristics by Zachary Fore, University of Minnesota Extension specialist
Top Producer, September 2010