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Leadership – Essential in the family business too!

How important is leadership to your business? Is your business’s excellent performance a function of leadership? Or is the opposite sadly the case?

My experience consulting with farm businesses for many years is that leadership varies massively across businesses and family groups. Unfortunately, it is a lack of leadership that is often to blame as a family and/or business falls apart at the seams with diverging interests and particular family requirements.

Leadership qualities really become exposed when the business size and/or complexity increases. Managing a workplace with multiple family members employed, employing multiple staff/suppliers/professionals as a business grows, and farm succession tend to highlight leadership and, unfortunately, sometimes it takes time to realise that leadership
has been poor, and by this time, it can be too late!

So what is leadership? There are many, many quotes available that try to describe leadership, but a couple that I love are;

“A godly leader does not force his rule upon his people. He appeals to their hearts and minds; he sets an example by how he lives and moves; he serves them with gifts and his life; in doing so, he wins their love and respect. They follow him because they want to follow. They grant him authority by willing consent.” – Ron Beohme – Leadership for the 21st Century

And my absolute favourite;

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists…..when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, ‘We did this ourselves.” – Lao-Tu -Spirit of Leadership.

Family and Business!

Before we go further, it is worth acknowledging that for many of you, you spend your life with family and the business of farming intertwined! This certainly can and does present some challenges with regard to leadership and how you go about it, but I would argue that this makes the requirement for leaders to be very good leaders even more important. The consequences of failure in this scenario can be disastrous, so there are no doubts about it, good leadership is essential in the business of family farming!

So what is leadership?
• Getting people to do what they otherwise would not have done.
• Providing vision, direction, purpose, and dreams.
• Done from the front; providing an example.
• Provider of motivation.
• People choose to follow – but power often affects the choice.
• Leaders can be made.
• Skills and abilities that can be taught and learned.

Leadership MUST be future-focused.
It may seem obvious, but leadership requires forward focus. Good leaders typically have experience and will have learned from past experiences, but they will not spend too much time looking in the rear vision mirror! Interestingly individual personality type has a big influence over a person’s ability to remain positive and look forward.

The following table shows the difference between happy and unhappy people and how much of their thoughts and focus applies to the different time periods of their lives. The same applies to good leaders.

I am sure you will look at this table and be able to relate it to yourself as well as the people you know! Living in the past is not good for your mental well-being nor your ability to lead.

Leadership today

Leadership today has changed. Much of this is due to the very different attitudes and values expressed by different generations entering the workforce (i.e. Gen Y v Gen X), with workplace organisational structures typically have evolved to reflect the change in attitudes and values.

Typically in the past, the command and control manager’s ability to lead was based on legitimate power, coercive power and reward power. Power is still important, but the above does not work well today. They are contrary to empowerment, teams and the career patterns that have been emerging. Of the families I consult, I often see ‘parents’ struggling to come to grips with the ‘Gen Y child’ who wants it all now or wants certainty the day after they come home, wants a better wage, wants to get off the farm assets now, wants time to travel, etc., etc.

Those who manage this scenario best are those who accept that this is not an issue that is particular to their son but a sign that their generation sees the world differently. The challenge for farm leaders is to acknowledge these differences and provide leadership that accommodates them. Just as in the business world, management structures that worked in the family farm business 20 years ago are highly unlikely to work quite so well today!

Time honoured solutions:-
• Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
• Do everything you do with integrity.
• Lead by example.
• Practice what you preach.
• Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.
• Give responsibility freely.

So what can you do?
If you are a leader in your business and family, then you need to first recognise that you have such a role. Once you have recognised this, then all you can do is try your best to be a good leader. The best leaders are undoubtedly born, but plenty of leaders have become good leaders through effort and effort alone.

My advice would be to try and do what is outlined in this very short leadership article and read books on leadership to improve your knowledge. If nothing else, it will be apparent to those around you that you are trying, which will go a long way, I am sure.