Category: Lessons from the Farm

Harvesting In Leadership

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Each April I post a series about “Lessons from the Farm” where I reflect on leadership lessons I picked up along the way. Today’s post is a peak into my favorite series.

I’ll never forget the strangest harvest we ever had on the farm. In the fall we planted wheat. I saw the bags, saw the seeds, and knew the drill (pun intended). We waited patiently for the first of the crop to break through the ground. I’ve always said there are few things more beautiful to my eyes than a good wheat crop at almost any stage.

Well, this year was different. As the seeds sprouted and started to break the crust, we noticed something different. Wheat was not what was growing. Instead, breaking through the ground was acres and acres of cotton.

Sound a little strange? That’s because it never happened. Every year, when we planted a seed, we knew what the seed would grow into. Wheat seed grows into wheat. Cotton seed grows into cotton. Seems pretty obvious, right? We harvest what we plant.

Let’s shift to a garden. Would you work the ground in a garden and plant a peach tree and expect jalapeños to grow instead? Why not? Because we harvest what we plant.

Now, we may not know the health of what we harvest, but we know what to expect it to produce. 

Leadership is no different: we harvest what we plant.

If we plant seeds of discontent and constant doubt about others’ abilities, we will harvest the fruit of discontent and constant doubt about others’ (and eventually our) abilities. 

If we plant seeds of dependence on us to do everything and take all the initiative, we will harvest the fruit of people depending on us to do everything and take all the initiative.

If we plant seeds of empowerment, however, we will harvest the fruit of people who have grown to feel empowered.

Do you see the pattern? It seems pretty simple, right? Except sometimes we plant the wrong seed with the right intentions. We train the people we lead to accomplish a mindset for which we were not prepared.

The enemy of leadership is not always outside forces. The enemy of leadership is very often our unwillingness to let go, to empower.

That’s what the 3 questions bring to the table. In the framework of the 3 questions we learn to sow seeds of awareness, willingness and leadership. When we teach people to ask and answer the 3 questions, what begins to happen is those people feel empowered. 

What seeds are you sowing? Or, if you’ve been in your current role for a while, what frustrations are you facing that are truly the harvest of the seeds you’ve planted? 

Guess what, it doesn’t always happen, but sometimes when a crop is no good, it’s okay to plow the field and plant some new seeds. It may not mean a fresh start, but it may mean a refocusing of purpose and energy, and who wouldn’t benefit from a refocus from time to time?

Lessons from the Farm: Lost Phones

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Have you ever misplaced your cell phone? If so, do you remember the panic in the pit of your stomach? The worry about hundreds of dollars not only disappearing once, but a second time when you buy the next one?

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 certain you don’t miss a post.

I still remember losing my first phone. I had moved back and been working on the farm for a less than a year, when it happened. I was in a corral loading cattle on the truck with my phone in my pocket, and I went to get in the truck and my phone was not in my pocket.

I spent what felt like an eternity retracing my steps, hoping against hope to find my beloved Nokia (that’s right, it’s been a while). But the reality was if it had fallen out in the corral, it was likely buried under a mixture of dirt and dried manure, fully trampled by a sufficient number of 750 pound cattle. If it had fallen out while driving a 4 wheeler, it was anywhere over the span of about 2 square miles.

The feeling as I pulled out that day still sticks with me. I was in mourning over the loss. That may seem melodramatic, but we’ve all been there.

The leadership lesson? Things will go wrong. You will lose church members, or an important client, or a key business account. You will make a mistake and worry about where you went wrong and what you could have done differently. And that’s okay. It’s natural, even.

But leadership means you have to get in the truck and move forward. The business of the day doesn’t stop because you need to take a break. Mourn the loss, grieve the mistake, learn from it for next time, but avoid the temptation to dwell on it.

I could have spent all day looking for my phone. And I have heard stories of people who keep looking and find it. But sometimes we have to cut our losses so we can maintain our gains.

What loss are you mourning right now? Are you still dwelling on it? If so, take steps forward. Learn from it. Let it shape how you approach situations differently the next time. I took much better care of my next phone, believe me. Do the same in your leadership.

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: 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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