Lessons from the Farm: Owners and Hired Hands

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As a teenager growing up working for my dad on the farm, I started to realize there were some differences in how we viewed the operation. I worked because I had no choice (and got paid for it). My dad, on the other hand, approached the farm with a different mindset.

Welcome back to our Lessons from the Farm series. For the month of April I have been blogging about leadership lessons I learned from the farm. If you’d like to catch up, click here to read one of my favorite posts from last year, or click here to read some from this year. You can also subscribe to make sure you don’t miss a post.

Now, back to the difference between my dad and I.

I was able to work and make some money on the farm when growing up. In fact, I learned the value of keeping track of my hours, what a long work day looks like, and so much more.

But can you guess what I never did: I never lost sleep wondering if the farm was going to make money. I never made a decision on what revenue stream to pursue. I really never worried about whether or not a rain was coming.

My dad, on the other hand, did all of that and so much more. Why? Because he was the owner and I was a hired hand. There’s a difference between the two.

Today’s leadership lesson is simple: as a leader, people around you are not going to be as invested in the success of your leadership, ministry, organization, or business as you.

This does not mean the people you lead do not care for you. In many cases, actually, the people who surround you could be your biggest fans, but because they’re not the owner, their approach is different.

Similarly, you have arenas where you are a hired hand. You encounter situations every day where you are not the guy in charge, and your attitude is different as a result.

So, how do you manage this tension? You begin to give away ownership. At the core of the 3 questions, we learn to invite other people to become owners with us. Actually, inviting others in makes all the difference in the world. Granted, they will not likely become as invested in your success as you are, but their perspective will begin to change.

When I moved back to work on the farm in 2009, I was obviously not a teenager anymore. Over the course of my time back on the farm, my conversations with my dad began to change. I slowly moved from a hired hand to an owner mentality. He invited me along to influence decisions, to give my input, and to help guide the direction of the business. My success was tied in to the success of the farm.

Great leaders find a way to move people from hired hands to owners. You can do it, too. Find someone you trust and invite them to take a little more ownership. You’ll be surprised at the difference it makes. Chances are someone did that for you along the way, and it changed the way you think. Return the favor and invest in a hired hand.

Lessons from the Farm: Feed the Calf

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I’m continuing my Lessons from the Farm series today. If you’d like to get these delivered to your inbox, click here. If you’d like to read some of this year’s posts, click here and progress forward.

Today’s lesson was inspired by a Facebook post from my Uncle Bill.

Each year #65 will give birth and clean her calf, and then abandon it.
First year she had twins, so I kept her. Each year after her calves are the best in the herd.

But for one week, morning and night, I have to teach her calf to nurse and tie her back leg so she won’t kick me and the calf. I get slapped in the face with a urine soaked tail, some days dirt/ manure blows all over me and eventually she becomes the most protective mother in the herd. Charging me if I even get 50 yards near her calf.

Until then, we eat in the chute.

Have you ever considered that not every calf who is born either knows how to feed, or the mother lets it feed? So, for a rancher, the miracle of birth is followed by waiting to see if the calf is “going to take”. This takes patience on behalf of the rancher, because a new mother is rather protective of their baby.

The leadership principle here is even the best people in an organization occasionally need a little reminder of why they are serving.

There is a certain monotony we have all felt in our work. While some of us thrive on patterns and routine, even our thriving suffers setbacks from time to time.

As you lead, never forget the need to continually check in with those you are leading. Asking the 3rd question is not a license to fully surrender interest. Check in with those around you. Ask how they’re doing. Find ways to encourage them.

Even the best followers need to be encouraged, or at least reminded of why they love what they do. For #65, it means letting her baby feed. For others, it will be completely different. A great leader learns to encourage, so encourage someone today.

Lessons from the Farm: Watch the Locks

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We are continuing our Lessons from the Farm series today. Go here to read the posts so far from this year and last year.

One of the things I treasure the most about growing up with my dad as a farmer was the time we got to spend together. I remember loving to ride the tractor with him, falling asleep with my head bouncing on the window, and generally being amazed by everything that was going on.

So, when we moved back, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to take my oldest daughter with me to the farm. She turned 2 right after we moved, so she was prime age for some great memories, and some not so great memories.

One of those not so great memories came when she was probably around 3. She was old enough to know what she was doing, but not fully aware of how to take instructions.

We went out to check cattle together. It was getting late as I pulled up to open the gate, and I was a little worried about running out of daylight. I pulled up to the gate, got out, shut my door, opened the gate, and returned to the pickup to find Anna had locked the doors. With a 5 year old, this wouldn’t be a problem. Even a 4 year old could help. But at the wonderful age of 3, what followed was a very frustrating exchange, filled with a flared temper (me), lots of giggles (Anna), and finally a resolution–I got back in the pickup.

The leadership principle here? The best leadership comes from time spent together.

Think back to the beginning of my post. Why did I want to take my daughter with me to the farm? Because my dad had done the same thing. I started at a young age, and spent years learning all sorts of things.

Leadership works the same way, just often we don’t have the luxury of growing someone over a couple decades. Spend time with the people you’re leading. Take time to teach them some of what you know, and take time to learn some of what they know.

The most effective leadership I have encountered comes as a result of time spent together.

Just make sure to build trust before you get out of the pickup. Until that trust is built, roll down a window just in case.

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Lessons from the Farm: Fight Through

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I’m continuing Lessons from the Farm today. If you’d like to read some of the other posts, here are a few of them: Keep Going, Know When to Stop, Same Destination Different Paths, Work Until the Job is Done, and Don’t Leave Cattle on the Truck.

Today, let’s talk about blizzards. Not the Dairy Queen treat, but the weather phenomenon.

In 2009, my wife and I moved back to my hometown so I could start working on the farm again. We knew it was for a season, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

When I got back, I found my dad’s operation was different than when I graduated high school and moved away. He had moved more to a cattle operation than a crop based operation.

In December of 2009 we got a few truck loads of cattle, and the weather got cold. January 2010 was one of the wettest ones I remember, but it was also extremely cold for our area. That meant the wheat (the main source of food for our cattle) went dormant earlier, which meant we had to find ways to supplement what the cattle were eating.

That’s where my job started. Every day (emphasis on every), I woke up, drove to the barn, and started the process of feeding cattle a mixture of grain and molasses, that I mixed fresh that day. It was a very hipster process–fresh ingredients, fresh preparation, every day.

I’ll never forget mixing grain and auguring it into the feed bin on the pickup while snow was blowing sideways across my face. It was a very unique (and cold) experience.

Here’s the leadership principle: our success (cattle gaining weight and selling for more money) did not allow for a blizzard break. The cattle needed to be fed every day, regardless of weather, and regardless of whether I felt like fighting the weather.

Success for you in business, in ministry, in farming, will not wait because of the storms you’re facing. I’m not advocating being a workaholic, or spending so much time doing your job that you lose your identity. What I am advocating, however, is acknowledging the times when you don’t feel like doing something are precisely the times you need to do something.

I didn’t want to feed cattle in a blizzard. Actually, feeding them was easy. I didn’t want to do the work to prep the grain in a blizzard.

Sometimes, dealing with teenagers can be challenging. Sometimes, dealing with church people can be difficult. Sometimes, dealing with anyone can be difficult. But the moment I don’t want to do those things is exactly the moment I realize I need to do something the most.

Get out there today, fight the blizzard so you can do what needs to be done. Lead well today.

 

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Lessons from the Farm: When to Stop

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Welcome to our 2nd year of Lessons from the Farm! Click here to read posts from last year.

I grew up working with my dad on his farm. We raised cattle, wheat, cotton, and whatever else he thought would make a profit. Lucky for me, I learned a few things along the way. 

Earlier this week, I posted about not stopping when you’re trying to move forward. I would recommend if you haven’t read the first post, click here and read it before reading today. And yes, today’s picture is an authentic picture as well, just not something I did.

Here’s the thing about getting stuck. Once you get stuck, more than likely you’re not going to pull yourself out alone. In fact, in my experience, when I got stuck and kept telling myself I could work myself out, a lot of times I only dug a deeper hole.

So, today’s leadership principle is know when to stop and ask for help.

There seems to be an aura in society about asking for help. People are ashamed to do it. Often times, I’m embarrassed to ask for help. It’s embarrassing to send your boss (much less your dad) a picture of a pickup buried to the frame. It’s even more embarrassing as a 28 year old to send the same picture to the 17 year old kid who works with you.

As leaders we convince ourselves that asking for help is a sign of weakness. We are the leader, so why would we need help? Are we not supposed to be the expert? We should know better.

Or, maybe you’ve served with someone who asked for help so much you felt like all they were doing was trying to get out of doing actual work, and you do not want to come across that way.

But, when you’re stuck, you’re stuck. Scroll up and look at today’s picture again. Do you think there’s any way that tractor is getting out on it’s own? It’s not equipped to do it. The front tires alone (it’s not an all wheel drive tractor) are almost completely buried.

In leadership, the same thing can happen. We can get to a place where we’ve tried and tried to work our way out, but the truth is we have dug ourselves such an incredible hole, we have to ask for help.

Help comes in a variety of ways, but here are three:

  1. Trusted friends – Maybe all you need is a little push so your tires can grab. Trusted friends are great for this! They keep you honest, humble, and moving forward. Surround yourself with people who think differently than you, and everyone wins.
  2. Conferences – Something about getting away and being exposed to new or different ideas and concepts gets our creative juices flowing. I’m excited because next week (April 12-13, 2018), I’m going to a conference designed to help me process through specifically the struggles I’m facing right now. (If you’re a youth worker and want to know more, go here to find out more and to register.)
  3. Professional Counseling – I cannot tell you how many significant leaders to whom I listen or read have stressed the importance of counseling. Sometimes, when you’re stuck, the best step is to seek the help of a professional.

The bottom line is this: we all get stuck at some point. Great leaders know they’re stuck and are not afraid to ask for help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but of maturity.

 

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