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Farm CEO: The complete farm executive

"For years I believed success required me to be stressed out,” a client once told me. “I now understand that I can achieve more with less stress.”

What does the basic mindset of a farm CEO look like? I’m currently using a three-factor model to describe what I think makes a highly effective farm executive.

The first is business results. Obviously at the end of the day if we don’t define success and achieve objectives that keep us in business, never mind grow our business, we are not going to be successful. Overall, I think agriculture is adapting and adopting the necessary business practices and technologies. But it’s how results are achieved that is shifting and challenging farmers.

What is so often missed is that how we achieve business results does matter. This was not the prevailing mindset a generation ago, which could have been described as — “get it done.”

Fair enough, but at what cost?

We now live in a world where effort doesn’t determine the result like it once did. I think for many, little or no consideration is given to thinking in ways to solve multiple challenges simultaneously, and to see everything as interconnected and therefore consequential, like the way that how I farm has an impact on global supply chains.

The research is clear. “Smart, technically savvy and hard-working” is now entry level for leadership ability. High-performing leaders are leading relationally. They see through systems and are in a state of continuous personal and professional practice.

Average leadership works okay in average circumstances, but only high leader effectiveness will effectively address circumstances of significant consequence. Otherwise VUCA (a business environment that is “volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous”) will take an enormous toll on the physical and emotional health of the leader, as well as those around them. Thus, understandably, well-being is the third factor of a complete leader.

Well-being is a theory of positive psychology developed in part by Dr. Martin Seligman. My understanding is that at the time, this theory turned psychology on its head by looking at what made people well psychologically, rather than focusing on the diagnosis and treatment of people when they present with mental health concerns.

Well-being is a proactive approach that, as I continually work to connect the research, seems to make an important connection for the ag CEO mindset. Positive psychology basically asserts that well-being is built up from positive emotions cultivated by positive relationships, and by actively engaging in the pursuit of what is meaningful and acknowledging achievement when we succeed.

It is quite possible that there is no sustainable personal and professional success if the well-being of people isn’t being maintained. Think about that. The competencies that describe high leader effectiveness (I use 18 in my work) are all underpinned by positive emotions. You can’t authentically perform them otherwise.

With their permission, I’ll share a comment from a client because it makes the point so well.

“For years I believed that success required me to be stressed out,” they told me. “I now understand that I can achieve more with less stress and have stronger relationships. I thought it was impossible, but I now see it is possible.”

This leader is seeing the sweet spot where business results, professional success, and well-being intersect to create higher performance.

The ring of common sense in the findings only reinforces my belief that a higher level of performance and success is accessible to all of us if we choose to step into it. Even more encouraging is that studies have shown that better business outcomes track positively with increases in leader effectiveness. One study even showed nearly double the profits when comparing an average leader to the most highly rated leaders in the study. If leader effectiveness is trainable, why settle for average?

I’m motivated by those who are evolving their thinking and acting more relationally to leverage the enormous experience and expertise around them. Once we do, there is a world of knowledge and skills available to increase our capacity to achieve more of what matters most.

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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