Lack of leadership may be the single biggest void in today's agricultural operations, says Kevin Spafford, Farm Journal columnist and founder of Legacy by Design, a farm succession planning firm.
"We sense a real deficiency in farm leadership during many of our succession planning encounters,” says Spafford. Many farms today are operated by producers who want to increase profits and expand, but lack education and experience in leading the operation toward this kind of long-term growth.
The problem with leadership is that while it's easy to identify in people, it's difficult to define. Spafford has developed a list of leadership characteristics that he suggests producers cultivate to improve their leadership skills. They include:
- Integrity and commitment. "These are the most important traits of a leader,” Spafford says. Nothing trumps honesty, hard work and perseverance.
- Systematic processes, financial control and team building.
- Mentor relationships. "Don't ever overlook the value of a good mentor,” he says. "The opportunity to learn from the experience of another person is priceless. It increases effectiveness while stabilizing the learning curve. "
- A student of the organization. Especially for successors in a family business, it's important for leaders to become a student of the organization – learn its core values, processes and people. Producers must also become students of leadership, motivation, management and business.
The good news, says Spafford, is that leadership begets leadership. "Strong leaders are more likely to gather and train a team of capable talent, creating a bench of back up leaders and a team of willing participants,” he says.
Listen to Spafford expand on the importance of leadership: