Farm Succession Planning? You Need a Leader
“You have really good managers, but where’s the leader?”
Family businesses work so very hard to be financially strong. They may be great at production and administration of the business, but sooner or later:
- values are tested
- motivation is required
- conflict necessitates resolution
- coordination requires communication and compliance
- vision is needed
- accountability is necessary
- the business needs a leader
Before you start naming who is to lead,
it is critical that you define the personality, character, experience and education you want that leader to possess. In other words, you determine what is needed before who is to lead.
At a recent family business consultation, the members brainstormed the qualities they wanted for their next business leader. The list included:
- trusts others and is trustworthy
- has foresight and is visionary
- accountable and holds others to account
- models and clarifies core values
- great communication skills
- goal oriented
- motivator and self-motivated
- people person
- approachable and welcomes ideas
- teaches and mentors
- sets a positive tone
- strong work ethic
- open minded
- competent and manages conflict
- working knowledge of people and agriculture
- community supporter
- continuous learner
Whew…that’s quite a list, but beginning with the descriptors frames this vital position in a family business.
Then owners must continue by asking these questions: Is there someone currently in the business with those qualities? Is there someone in the business whose current skills would benefit from training and support as they grow in leadership? Will there need to be an outside hire? Is an interim leader required until the family member managers have more maturity, growth and have stood the test of time?
The key to choosing the best person to lead
This requires a specific process — “what” before “who.” If this process is not followed, families in agriculture often defer to the “default.” The next leader is either the oldest son, the one who has worked in the business the longest, or a “favored child.” This doesn’t mean that those individuals are not worthy of the leadership position, it just means they are in the pool to be vetted along with all others.
I’ve found when working with farm families, it’s much easier to teach weeds, seeds, feeds, breeds, finance, compliance, risk protection, machinery and marketing than core values and interpersonal skills. This is why upfront vetting and selection of the farm business leader is so important.
I believe the future of your current family farm business depends on the successful transition and hiring of the right leader today. The leadership’s “what” and “who” of a previous generation (or even what worked yesterday) may not be the best for today and tomorrow. Search carefully for a “people” person, not just a “production and management” person. This individual will then: expand and explain the vision; model and honor the code of conduct which defines the shared values; productively communicate for clarity; dissolve or mediate conflicts; embrace accountability for praise, coaching and correction; motivate by purpose and appreciation; walk and work alongside those in the business; and earn the respect of the owners, management and the employee team.
Jolene Brown, CSP, CPAE
Jolene Brown is a farmer, professional speaker, author and champion for the family owned business. She’s from West Branch, Iowa, USA, and travels worldwide sharing leading-edge best practices that have the power to increase productivity, profitability and peace of mind. Her passion combined with her fun-filled spirit and valuable information brings humor, hope and helpful ideas to the people of agriculture. For more information and to check out her speaking availability, contact her at [email protected], www.JoleneBrown.com
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