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Become a farm CEO: Why make the shift?

Executive-level behaviour is good for both the farm and farmer

It’s time that farmers develop beyond being the world-class farm managers they are today. That’s the vibe I’m getting from clients, program participants and industry professionals. The conversation around what abilities Canadian farmers need to develop, and how they should acquire them, is already underway.

If a farmer is successfully operating his or her business, why is transitioning from a manager mindset to an executive mindset an issue? Why should they read any further and not be content doing an excellent job managing the day-to-day operations of the farm? What are we really talking about?

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Leadership is a broad idea. To picture this evolution of responsibility, it could be described as an executive mindset and evolving into a farm CEO.

Developing a CEO mindset and the skills to serve that mindset are essential if Canadian farms are to successfully operate in a globalized industry that functions nothing like it did a generation ago.

VUCA (or Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) is the increasingly common acronym for describing a globalized, digitized and data-saturated world. VUCA is, for example, being denied access to our largest canola market for reasons that have nothing to do with agriculture. It is acknowledging swelling global stocks of the commodities we are comfortable growing, and determining if we can keep growing them at prices well below what we’ve been used to, and to successfully do so where markets swing based on tweets.

A CEO mindset empowers farmers to lift their heads above the day-to-day and to make in-the-moment decisions for the benefit of their business in relation to global forces. It’s the ability, after having surveyed the global landscape, to engage the critical partnerships (both external and internal to the farm) to develop a plan that finds a way to achieve more with existing resources.

With a CEO in charge, everyone understands that what they do, and how they do it, matters like never before.

A CEO mindset also strongly correlates to the well-being of the farmer and the well-being of those who work with them. The mental health of Canadian farmers is inextricably linked to their CEO performance. As I continue to review the literature and research around high-performing leaders, the links are both astonishing and common sense.

The most significant link I’ve made so far is that leader effectiveness follows an 80/20 distribution. In other words, a very small group of leaders in any sample group produce a disproportionately large amount of the results.

One study showed the top group made twice as many total decisions as the middle group that was three times larger. In others, each leader in the top group made six times more decisions than the managers in the middle group.

How is this possible? The research into top leaders reveals behaviours and abilities that align with practices that support and develop well-being and high levels of resiliency, not only for themselves, but also for those they work with.

Executive-level behaviour is good both for the farm and the farmer, yet developing a CEO mindset is a practice, the opposite of a quick fix, that is attainable under the right circumstances.

As a startup leader-development business focused on serving the ag space, I’m asserting that the field of leader development is best equipped to prepare the current and next generation of farmers who will power this diverse industry.

Over this fall and winter, I will cover topics that I believe are significant if farmers are to evolve their performance (beliefs and behaviours) in order to thrive in global agriculture. My goal is to address complex ideas that are treated as clichés such as, “Culture eats strategy for lunch” (Peter Drucker) so that readers clearly understand the interconnectedness of the person, the role, and the farm. I hope you will stay tuned.

Kelly Dobson [email protected] is chief leadership officer of LeaderShift Inc., powering the National Farm Leadership Program initiated by Farm Management Canada for farmers and farm advisors in January 2020.

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