7 Leadership Lessons from the Fields: Advice from Farmers
Leadership can be compared to being a farmer in the sense that both require patience, dedication, and a long-term perspective. Just as a farmer tends to their crops, a leader nurtures and develops their team. Both must also adapt to changing circumstances and make decisions based on what is best for the group or organization in the long run.
Of course, all models, and analogies are flawed, but they might open our minds to interesting viewpoints, so put on your straw hat and join me on a walk across the fields!
1. Don't shout at the crops
One key aspect of this analogy is the idea of not “shouting at the crops.” This means that, as a leader or farmer, it is important to approach challenges and difficulties with a calm and measured approach, rather than getting overly angry or reactive. Yelling at or punishing employees or crops will not necessarily solve problems or lead to better outcomes. Instead, it is essential to communicate clearly, listen to concerns, and work together to find solutions.
2. Don't blame the crops for not growing fast enough
This refers to the idea of taking responsibility for the success or failure of the team or organization. A farmer cannot control the weather or other external factors that may affect the growth of their crops, and a leader cannot control every aspect of their team's performance. However, both can take steps to create the best possible conditions for success and should be willing to accept responsibility for the outcomes that result.
Blaming your reports for not meeting expectations or goals is not productive and can create a negative work environment. Instead, it is important for a leader to recognize the role that their actions and decisions play in the team's performance and to work with the team to find ways to improve. This might involve providing additional resources, training, or support, or reevaluating goals and strategies. It is also critical to recognize that there may be external factors that contribute to challenges or setbacks, and to approach these with a problem-solving mindset rather than placing blame.
This, of course, does not imply that individual performance doesn't matter. It does! You should be setting developmental goals and coach/mentor your reports. Just drop the blaming mindset.
3. Don't uproot crops before they've had the chance to grow and mature
Please keep in mind the importance of giving employees the time and support they need to develop and grow in their roles. Just as a farmer must be patient and allow their crops to mature before they can be harvested, a leader must be patient and allow their team members to develop and grow before expecting them to produce results. Acknowledge that certain things take time.
Rushing or pushing employees too hard can lead to burnout, low morale, and poor performance. A leader should create a positive and supportive work environment that allows team members to learn, grow, and thrive. This might involve providing training and development opportunities, giving constructive feedback, and setting clear goals and expectations. It is also important to recognize that different team members may have different needs and may require different levels of support to reach their full potential.
By providing the necessary resources and support, and by being patient and allowing team members the time they need to grow and mature, a leader can help their team succeed in the long run.
4. Choose the best plants for the soil
This goes both ways – selecting the right team members for the organization and being aware of how the environment resonates with your reports. Like a farmer must choose the right plants for the specific conditions of their soil, a leader must choose the appropriate employees for the specific needs and culture of their organization. This doesn't mean ruthlessly aiming for the top talent out there – it's a curation process, which requires understanding of your organization's needs, maturity, culture and work environment.
This means considering factors such as the skills, experience, and personality of potential team members, as well as how well they fit with the overall mission and values of the organization. A leader should strive to build a diverse and well-rounded team that brings a range of perspectives and expertise to the table. By selecting the right team members, a leader can set the stage for success and create a positive and productive work environment.
It is also important for a leader to continuously evaluate the performance and fit of their team members and to make changes as needed. Just as a farmer may need to rotate their crops or add fertilizers to improve the soil, a leader may need to introduce changes to their team to optimize performance and achieve their goals. This might involve providing additional training or support, or adjusting roles and responsibilities. By continuously adapting and adjusting their team, a leader can ensure that they have the right people in place to succeed.
Constantly evaluating the culture, work environment and support the organization is giving to its employees is just as essential. If you're not setting up your reports for success, it's not fair to expect great outcomes from them.
5. Irrigate and fertilize
Providing support and resources to team members in order to help them succeed is not a nice-to-have. Just as a farmer must provide water and nutrients to their crops to help them grow, a leader must provide support and resources to their team to help them perform at their best.
This might involve providing training and development opportunities to help team members build their skills and knowledge, as well as setting clear goals and expectations to help guide their work. It may also mean providing resources such as technology, equipment, or support staff to help team members do their jobs effectively. By providing the necessary support and resources, a leader can create the conditions for success and help their team perform to the best of their ability.
It is also important for a leader to continuously assess the needs of their team and to make adjustments as necessary. Just as a farmer may need to adjust their irrigation and fertilization practices based on changing weather or soil conditions, a leader may need to adapt their support and resources based on the changing needs of their team. By being proactive and responsive in providing support and resources, a leader can help their team succeed and achieve their goals.
6. Remove weeds
In the analogy of leadership being like farming, the idea of “removing weeds” refers to the importance of addressing problems or challenges that can hinder the success of the team or organization. Like a farmer must remove weeds from their fields in order to allow their crops to thrive, a leader must remove obstacles or issues from their team to allow them to perform at their best.
This might involve addressing issues such as poor communication, lack of resources, or negative attitudes that can hinder productivity or morale. It may also involve identifying and addressing conflicts or issues within the team. By addressing and resolving these problems, a leader can create a positive and productive work environment that allows their team to succeed.
It is important for a leader to be proactive in identifying and addressing problems, rather than waiting for them to escalate or become entrenched. Just as a farmer must continuously monitor their fields and remove weeds as they appear, a leader must be attuned to the needs and concerns of their team and act to address any issues that arise. By taking a proactive and problem-solving approach, a leader can help their team succeed and achieve their goals.
7. There are good seasons are bad seasons – you can only prepare for those
Being adaptable and resilient in the face of changing circumstances is another way of saying “be agile”. Just as a farmer must adapt to the changing seasons and weather patterns, a leader must be prepared for and able to respond to changes in their industry, market, or organization.
This means being proactive in anticipating and preparing for potential challenges or disruptions, as well as being flexible and adaptable in the face of unexpected events. It is important for a leader to have a long-term perspective and to recognize that there will be ups and downs along the way. By being prepared and able to adapt, a leader can help their team weather any storms that may come their way.
It is also crucial for a leader to recognize that they cannot control every aspect of their environment, just as a farmer cannot control the weather. Rather than getting frustrated or discouraged by external factors that are beyond their control, a leader should focus on what they can control and take action to create the best possible outcomes. By being adaptable and resilient, a leader can help their team succeed and thrive in good seasons and bad.