Become a Better Leader

November 24, 2015 08:55 AM

Advice on coaching employees in a stressful industry

As a farm manager of a large operation, you have a lot on your plate. It’s easy to fall into the trap of performing the same tasks you’ve always done, even though your role has changed. 

How can you be an effective leader when there are a dozen fires to put out at any given time? Begin by recognizing your primary role.

“Make talent a strategic initiative,” says Allan Gray, director of the Center for Food and Agricultural Business at Purdue University. “That’s not a leadership course we’re sending people to. A strategy of talent management starts at the top.”

The challenge is that for many leaders, communication on all fronts is a skill that must be learned in the middle of a stressful environment. 

“It’s very easy to roll it down and cascade that pressure through the organization,” explains Lou Solomon, CEO of Charlotte, N.C.-based Interact communications consultancy. “Leaders are sometimes low on prioritizing what can be the very thing that drives results, and that is the human connection.”

To build those critical relationships with your team, start by understanding the things you do that drive them crazy.

Top Employee Concerns. Workers at U.S. companies share common concerns about leadership, according to a recent poll by Solomon’s Interact agency and Harris Poll. Top frustrations include a lack of recognition for achievements and a lack of time spent with employees.

“That is just a direct indication of priority,” Solomon says. “If there is not time to walk the floors, be visible, speak to people, be available, those things make people feel terribly disconnected. It’s not that leaders are bad people, it’s just that along the way, so many of them were recognized for a talent with numbers and operations, not people.”

Farm operations and agribusinesses face similar challenges, Gray says. In his mind, key problems facing leaders in the agriculture sector are:

  • The need to improve performance management skills, tying employee performance to the goals and objectives of the company.
  • The need to correct poor performance in the workplace so high-performing employees remain engaged and productive.
  • The need for leaders to transition from a technical doer of tasks to a manager and coach of people.

Lead Responsibly. Gray advises leaders to become better at delegation of responsibilities. Also ensure your team knows you don’t have all of the answers, Solomon adds.

“Start letting go of an image of invulnerable perfection,” she says. 

Address Your Employees’ Frustrations
Lack of recognition for achievements represents U.S. employees’ top concern about company leaders, according to a recent Interact/Harris poll. Above are key worries you can adapt your leadership style to address. 
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