Craig Yunker knows his strengths. As CEO of CY farms in Elba, N.Y., his role is to focus on key priorities, develop a strategic vision and build and retain the right team for his diverse operation, which includes 6,000 acres of row crops and vegetables, a commercial sod company and a 4,000-head feedlot that raises dairy heifer replacements.
“There are so many activities and tasks on a daily basis that it’s easy to get caught up,” Yunker says. “The difference between a manager and CEO is that CEOs have to force themselves to think strategically.”
All CEOs, especially farmers, can find it difficult to transfer from doing work to leading and managing it. To help switch gears, identify and lead with your strengths says Sarah Beth Aubrey, CEO of Aubrey Coaching and Training and a columnist for Top Producer. This goes for individual strengths, as well as the strengths of your team.
“Understanding your team’s strengths is important to get them into the right roles,” Aubrey says. “You might find yourself shuffling people that have been with you for a while into a different position.”
Try an online strengths assessment test like StrengthsFinder, Aubrey suggests. These assessments can provide objective insights and an opportunity for discussion.
Empower and Aid. Farming involves long hours and hard work, so your team should share your operation’s vision, Aubrey says. Otherwise, they won’t meet your productivity needs or be the advocates you want in the community.
Yunker motivates his 50 team members by giving them responsibility and rewarding them for making good decisions. This allows managers to take ownership of their actions and encourages mutual respect. The commitment to hiring high-powered individuals comes with the responsibility of encouraging them, he says.
“The challenge was not so much myself delegating,” Yunker says. “It was to convince our management team they can do it. They don’t need to ask me anything. I try to be a support rather than a director for our management.”
As you strive to be a better leader, be reflective and seek input from others, Aubrey recommends.
“Looking in the mirror is important, as is sitting around the table with other trusted peers and having an honest discussion,” she says.
Include feedback from peer advisory groups, mentors or consultants. For objectivity, find advisers outside your family and friends, and include a combination of people in and out of agriculture, she says.
Use A Priority Matrix
As a CEO, you need to focus your efforts and spend your time where you have the largest return on investment. Many times, leaders work all day, but feel like they accomplished nothing, says Sarah Beth Aubrey, CEO of Aubrey Coaching and Training. Use a simple tool like the priority matrix below, which Aubrey developed to use when assisting her clients with time management. She details how to align your tasks, based on where they fall in the matrix.