When I think of the greatest farm leaders today, I think of those who have experienced some incredibly tough moments and who, when their values were tested, stayed true to who they are.
I think of those I saw stand their ground during difficult situations, often with the next generation watching. These moments stand out for me as incredible portraits in integrity — when we are pushed to our roots to challenge our beliefs and values, when we stand our ground, and come through those conversations feeling empowered by what we could communicate.
In my previous articles I have covered what I truly believe are the top skills farm leaders demonstrate. Yet while collaboration, empowerment and focus are powerful tools, if they are used without integrity, none of them feel right.
When we compromise the core of our beliefs — our integrity — we lose ourselves in that dishonesty. Conversations that once inspired us no longer feel meaningful.
Integrity is an important attribute of a great leader, and it demands consistency, i.e. consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations and outcomes.
Integrity also connotes a deep commitment to always doing the right thing for the right reason, even in difficult circumstances.
Integrity seeks to keep the trust of those who have confided in us and, regardless of the consequences, it means choosing the right option.
I have seen families who have lived by a set of standards that have been engrained in them throughout their life. When their core values were put to the test, they stayed firm to their roots.
And in these families, there is usually a consistent pattern. The matriarch or patriarch of the family has led integrity by example, and that approach to leadership is being passed onto the next generation.
When I talk about integrity, I don’t want it to be confused with tradition. While many traditions are important, they can lead people to not do the right things or to treat people in the wrong ways. Integrity is about how, even in the face of disappointment, frustration or adversity, we can stay true to our core values and honour our promises.
These families know what it takes to succeed in today’s challenging times. They are united and follow a sense of purpose. They stay the course, day in and day out.
Sometimes we all question ourselves in the dark moments of frustration — the hail storm that ruins a crop, or the cow that loses the calf we had such hopes for. Maybe it’s the time when you spent all that money getting something fixed only to have it break down again when needed most.
I remember once my father had a man do some work for us and it was a disaster. He finished weeks later than promised and to nowhere near a satisfactory level. But my dad had made a promise to pay him. And even knowing he would never do business with this man again, he took the high road to complete the deal.
When I asked why he would pay for it, it was simple to him — they shook on it and that was that. But my dad, and not the worker, had integrity.
I recently witnessed a situation where a farmer, despite being taken advantage of by a large customer for his commodities, stayed the course and allowed the buyer to alter the terms of the deal — and not in his favour, but in theirs.
“We are not getting paid what we deserve,” the son mentioned to me in confidence. “The deal is not set up the way it should have been and that is hard for me to watch, but dad gets us into these situations.”
It was an interesting moment for me — to see this man who will not deviate from his original agreement and who focuses on the importance of upholding his end of the bargain. His son, while frustrated by the situation, still recognized this and was unable to talk to his father about it.
I appreciated the integrity of them both in this moment — the father upholding his end of his deal and his son protecting his relationship with his father and confiding in me about his frustrations while silently admiring the integrity his dad is showing.
I talked with the son about it, and we agreed on that leadership trait. It is incredible honesty that his father is showcasing to the next generation, staying true to the agreement he made on a handshake.
The handshake deal is being upheld by the family patriarch and he is staying true to his promise and his values. He is also the one who is setting up the next generation for success.
The next generation witnesses how we handle ourselves in these situations, including how we react to poor decisions that we made or are part of deals that have gone bad. The reality is we need to see it through. We need to show the next generation that mistakes are made but our opportunity in those moments is to stay true to our core values and follow through on our commitments. And of course, to take note of who not to work with or what to correct in the future.
There will always be opportunities to take advantage of a situation, but in those moments, we need to reflect on what that message also means to those around you. What effect will this reaction or decision have on the next generation?
We need to be great role models for the next generation. In those tough moments it is our responsibility to show integrity even when others don’t.
We need to show our children how to protect themselves in business interactions, learn from the collective family experience and how to conduct themselves with integrity. And that a handshake can still mean something.