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: 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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The Last Little Bit

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I am very excited about what’s coming up in April. Last year I did a series I called “Lessons from the Farm”, and starting next week, I am going to revive the series with new posts and leadership lessons.

But first, let’s talk about pushing through.

Last summer my wife and I bought a house just outside the city limits, down a country road. It sounds more majestic than it really is. We live about 1/2 mile off a paved road, but almost all of it is either caliche or some kind of gravel. The last 50 yards, however, is straight dirt.

There are benefits to living outside of town, but there’s also one draw back I was reminded of this week: dirt plus water equals mud.

We have gotten somewhere north of 2 inches of rain this week. My yard is greening up nicely. My trees are starting to show signs of growth. But my road is a mess.

I think this happens in leadership, too. We can have things around us going well: our team is clicking, our projects/events are rocking, and our communication is top notch, but there always seems to be the last 50 yards of mess.

Part of this is natural. Rain plus dirt equals mud. But vegetation plus moisture equals growth. A muddy road (and filthy vehicle) mean growth is coming.

Part of the mess, however, is because of a choice. Someone chose to stop putting caliche down 50 yards before my driveway. There was a choice made to stop at a certain point, and I live with the results.

So, let me ask you this today: what steps have you taken to offset the 50 yards of mess in your life?

In other words, are you content simply living with chaos in one area because you’re seeing growth in others?

Or, are you willing to address the chaos in the hopes of being able to enjoy the success?

Communicating Expectations Well

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One of the things I have most enjoyed about blogging over the past year has been the lessons I have learned and processed through my writing. Almost a year ago, I broke an unwritten rule I have about not writing about an idea or topic that recently took place when I wrote about communicating expectations.

The truth is, that post came directly out of a lesson I learned while on our annual Spring Break trip. You can click the link above to read the full post, but the short version was I got frustrated because my adult leaders were not following the schedule I had worked up, but I had never given them a copy of the schedule. So, in reality, I was frustrated with myself, not with the incredible team of volunteers who serve in the youth ministry.

As I am spending this week getting ready for the same trip, I am keeping in the forefront of my mind: communicate expectations well.

I believe this is a foundational leadership principle for my personal journey. If those who serve with me do not know what I expect, how can I realistically hold them to those expectations?

Plus, I can be a rather intense person, so learning to write down and communicate those expectations helps me manage them to a more realistic level. In other words, my unspoken expectations are often unrealistic expectations.

So, I have two questions for you today.

  1. Do you struggle with communicating expectations? If I was to ask the people you lead what you expected of them, would their answer line up with your answer?
  2. On a grander scale, what leadership lesson have you learned in the last year and what changes are you making as a result?

Just a side note to finish today: this is why I am so passionate about teaching the 3 questions to student leaders. I can teach a simple concept, and we are then on the same page moving forward!