Farm family three generations

How to find next-generation leader for family ag business

Though incredibly successful in business, most parent-owners struggle to differentiate between age-ready and management-capable when it comes to their own flesh and blood.

The search for the ‘right’ next generation leader is almost a universal quest among family agribusiness owners. Though incredibly successful in business, most parent-owners struggle to differentiate between age-ready and management-capable when it comes to their own flesh and blood. All too often they assume DNA is enough to ensure success and make leadership appointments according to birth, rather than what’s best for the business.

Kevin Spafford
Kevin Spafford

When I first began to work with Sid and Marcia, the selection of their eldest son, Mike, for a major role was already taking a toll on the business, and the family was becoming weary. In their son’s defense, he had done everything his parents asked — completed college, worked off-farm for three years and received satisfactory job performance reviews. He waited until there was an opening and then applied for a starting level position in the family operation.

Since Mike was the heir apparent, it was Sid and Marcia who early on encouraged him to consider a management role. It was their idea to begin transitioning major leadership responsibilities to their son as soon as possible. Whether he became overwhelmed or just wasn’t capable will forever be anyone’s guess. Suffice to say, he wasn’t an effective leader, business was declining, employee morale was suffering and the banker was asking questions.

But what happened and could it have been different?

“Great managers are scarce because the talent required to be one is rare,” begins State of the American Manager, Analytics and Advice for Leaders, a research report by Gallup, Inc., the performance-management consulting firm. It continues, “Few have the unique combination of talent needed to help a team achieve the kind of excellence that significantly improves a company’s performance.”

Right now, take a moment to think about the importance of those two statements, especially as it relates to selecting a next-generation leader.

It’s not some random anomaly, and it isn’t situational that great managers are hard to find, difficult to identify or challenging to hire. According to the research, most people don’t have the talents necessary to lead a team and generate the results needed to grow a business. This is not to say a person can’t develop capabilities for good leadership. But it does reveal it’s far more difficult than one may expect. The Gallup study says, “[only] about one in 10 people possess high talent to manage.”

Gallup’s research “defines talent as the natural capacity for excellence.” It goes on to explain that people can learn skills and gain knowledge, but “they can’t acquire talent.” Talent is innate. The firm reports “talent dimensions,” i.e.: motivator, assertiveness, accountability, relationships and decision-making, are the predictors of success. Was the Sid and Marcia’s son talent-deficient? Or, did he not have the capacity to lead?

Given the situation and even if a person can’t readily identify the skills and abilities necessary to lead, you can describe the behaviors of a strong manager. And, of course, it’s easier still to cite the accomplishments of a great leader or point to the results they’ve generated. In regard to behaviors, for instance, a talented manager:

• Invites a team approach and encourages participation.

• Makes decisions based on desired outcomes.

• Acknowledges the challenges, but doesn’t let obstacles get in the way.

• Develops positive, productive relationships built on mutual respect.

• Recognizes responsibility and accepts accountability for team results.

For Mike, I recommended a professional development plan. To use Gallup terms, Mike was a talented motivator despite a weakness in forming relationships with others. To fully develop his strengths and improve on other capabilities a written plan may include these steps:

1. Use an objective leadership assessment. Measure your character.

2. Review your current job roles and responsibilities and assess how those address your leadership capabilities.

3. Identify structured and non-structured opportunities for development, using: Educational programs; work-related experiences; and professional and personal achievements.

4. Commit to serve in a community, industry, and/or professional organization.

5. Create mentor relationships as both mentor and mentee.

Experience tells me the best leaders articulate and effectively communicate a clear and compelling vision. They encourage commitment and treat employees, strategic alliance partners and third-party vendors as integral members of the team. Effective leaders create positive, constructive, results-oriented working environments.

Kevin Spafford and his firm Legacy by Design (Legacy-by-Design.com) serve the succession planning needs of farmers, ranchers, and agribusiness owners. Reach Kevin by email ([email protected]) or phone (877) 523-7411.

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