Jim Dickrell is the editor of Dairy Herd Management and is based in Monticello, Minn.
Dairy Farms Can Benefit by Servant Leadership
Mar 21, 2014
It’s critical because your whole operation rests on the tone and trust that you set as a leader.
I’m not much for motivational speeches. Maybe it’s because of my dairy farm upbringing.
Yes, sermons are good. They can inspire. They can motivate you to be a better person. But come Sunday evening, there are always cattle to feed and cows to milk. And if there is a calf to pull, you pull it. That’s the way it works on the farm.
But a presentation by Tom Thibodeau at the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin Business Conference a few weeks ago really struck home. Thibodeau, a faculty member of Viterbo University, LaCrosse, Wis., is a firm believer and practitioner of what he calls "servant leadership."
It’s a leadership style that gets owners and managers down in the trenches with employees. "You have to be willing to do the work that you expect others to do," says Thibodeau. Or, as Pope Francis puts it, "If you want to be a shepherd, you should smell like a sheep."
This is critical, says Thibodeau, because your whole operation rests on the tone and trust that you set as a leader. To build that trust requires four attributes:
• Honesty. Be willing to speak the truth--always. If you give your word, keep it no matter what.
• Vision. People will not commit to mediocrity. "People are motivated by doing something significant," says Thibodeau. Articulate the broader vision of why you are in business and the legacy you are trying to build.
• Inspiration. To realize your vision, you and the people who work for you must be inspired to do so. To offer that inspiration, you must have the energy to motivate employees. "A leader," says Thibodeau, "has to be a carrier of hope."
• Competency. "Provide recognition to workers that their work is important," he says. In order to do a job well, workers must be properly trained and be equipped with the right tools to accomplish assigned tasks. Failure to provide those things leads to poor performance and frustration.
A practical application of servant leadership is offered by Bob Hagenow, a sales manager with Vita Plus. A few weeks ago, he wrote a column he entitled "Motivate Frozen Employees." In it, he offered some very practical examples of servant leadership, especially during a brutal winter:
• Work a long side employees, especially during harsh weather.
• Plow snow from feed bunkers and calf hutches--before workers arrive.
• Plug in and start engines so employees are entering warm skid steers and tractor cabs at the start of their shifts.
• Serve hot chocolate and coffee (and maybe a donut or two).
• Lead by a can-do, positive, empathetic attitude.
You can read Hagenow’s entire list here. It’s a great example of "leadership by service." Learn from it.