Transfer Knowledge Before Assets

01:31PM Dec 11, 2019
Assess the needs of your farm, Klinefelter says, and set a timeline for the leadership transition.
( Sara Schafer )

If you could write a letter to yourself when you first started farming, what would you say? This question, posed by Sarah Beth Aubrey, CEO of ACT, is the perfect place to start your farm’s leadership transition.

“You know you can’t go back, and you don’t get the knowledge you have now for free,” she says. “But, do you realize how valuable your experiences are and how you can influence the future now?”

Your Farm’s Future Leader

As you imagine your farm in the future, what skills and strengths should its leader possess?

“Successful management transitions on a family farm involve successor development that is intentional and targeted,” says Danny Klinefelter, professor emeritus at Texas A&M University. “The best transitions start early and deliberately.”

Part of the development and growth for the next generation requires clarity about your role and future expectations, Aubrey explains.

“If you are the farm’s leader, some of the things you do may be obvious,” she says. “Yet I’ll wager much of it is not, especially to someone who is not experienced enough to recognize critical functions that just seem to happen in your presence.”

Write the purpose of your role in a sentence or two, Aubrey says. Then, write your job description. Ask yourself these questions and use the answers to define your future leader’s role and responsibilities.

  • Will this role be the same for the next person in my position? Why or why not?
  • How do I see this role needing to change for the next leader?
  • What are we doing now to develop someone to take on the future leadership role?
  • What training and experience does your operation’s next CEO need to be successful?
  • What teaching do I need to do now and on a continual basis to prepare the next CEO?  

Assess the needs of your farm, Klinefelter says, and set a timeline for the leadership transition.

“Outline a plan for what the current CEO is going to do next,” he says. “If the CEO doesn’t plan for the future, it’s less likely he or she will step away from the role.”

Are you ready to take the next step in your farm’s succession plan? Attend the Legacy Project Conference on Jan. 28 in Chicago. Register at

Legacy Conference