If you ask 20 people to describe what leadership means, you’ll likely get 20 different answers. For farm owners and operators, this creates the difficult task of developing new managers by cultivating a common set of leadership skills. It’s especially important if new managers are now responsible for former peers.
“One of the first steps of great leadership is understanding what your people need,” says Alex Andrews, manager of organizational development for Alberta-based Rocky Mountain Equipment, AGCO’s largest dealer in Canada. “Generation X has Baby Boomers on one side and Millennials on the other side. They have different needs. Leaders need to have a fluid, flexible management style.”
This advice (see below) can help ease new managers’ transition process.
How to Shift From Peer to Supervisor
1. Don’t Make Assumptions. “Great leaders don’t lead people, they lead individuals,” Andrews says. “Listen to your team members and get to know them personally. Ask what they want and need from you as a new manager and be humble.”
When an employee changes roles and becomes a manager, his or her relationships with co-workers will also change. “Especially when there’s a friend in the group, you can’t have the same conversations. You must set ground rules,” Andrews says. New managers should think about how they will be perceived and realize expectations and skills will change. “It will be lonely at times,” Andrews acknowledges.
2. Have Critical Conversations. Emerging leaders shouldn’t avoid difficult conversations when a problem arises within their team, Andrews says. They should make sure to speak face-to-face with employees. Find the “inarguable truth” and state your interpretation clearly and concisely to take away defensiveness, Andrews advises. Ask employees for their opinion of the situation and ask about their intentions.
Andrews tells of a young student enrolled in his Redshirt Apprenticeship Program in Canada. The man had driven a skid loader through a service door. Before jumping to conclusions and expressing anger, the student’s manager asked him to explain what had happened. It turned out the student’s steel-toed boot—which he wasn’t used to wearing—had become caught under the brake pedal.
3. Coach Your Team to Understand. Managers must learn whether their team understands the organization’s vision and expectations.
“Vision is everything for a leader,” writes business expert John C. Maxwell in the book “The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader.” He adds: “Vision leads the leader. It paints the target. It sparks and fuels the fire within, and draws him forward. It is also the fire lighter for others who follow that leader.”
Verbalized expectations are important, too. “Did you establish the expectations?” Andrews asks. “As a new leader, you represent the organization to the team, but you also represent the team to the organization.” Realize employees don’t leave organizations. Rather, they leave managers. “Their frustration often is due to unmet expectations,” he points out.
4. Ask Questions of Your Staff. Too often, new managers make the mistake of not getting input from staff members. “The more you know, the less you see. You ‘know everything,’ so you don’t listen,” Andrews explains. Great leaders ask great questions, so new managers need to be inquisitive. The more enlightened and responsive new managers can be, the more successful their businesses will be in the long term.