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Taking imperfect leadership action in agribusiness

Employees and teams don’t need leaders to be perfect; they need them to care and guide.

Erin 2021 Headshot Edited Headshot
People Spark Consulting
People Spark Consulting

The first quarter of the year often means travel, industry shows, and speaking engagements. The best part about it is getting to meet, talk to, and hear from leaders just like you. We get to hear what’s on people’s minds — the challenges and what’s happening in the foreseeable future — and get to listen to what themes might be showing up. It’s also not so bad traveling when the weather isn’t great here in Minnesota.

Not surprisingly, this year we’ve continued to hear frustration from leaders on retaining employees. In fact, some of the quotes I took down from one event alone included:

  • “People don’t want to work.”
  • “I don’t know why I need to recognize someone just for showing up to work.”
  • “People understand what needs to be done – I don’t need to babysit.”
  • Anything starting with “this new generation...”

This article isn’t about generational differences. There’s plenty of studies, research, and information out there and available about that already.

I’m also not saying that there aren’t differences between each generation. There always has been, and there always will be, since each generation adapts to the environment and the information around them.

What I am saying is that it’s time for us to let go of the excuse about our differences being the reason we choose not to take action and adapt ourselves as leaders. It’s time to focus on what we can control, rather than what we can’t.

Don’t get me wrong. It takes intention, it takes effort, and it takes practice to adjust the way we lead our teams, especially if it’s different than how we were managed ourselves. The things that seem obvious to us are not necessarily obvious to our team members, so it takes our patience and attention to make sure to coach someone through to understand.

What’s funny and ironic about continuing to focus on the differences between our generations and how they operate in the workforce is that we fail to see the common threads that exist between all of them. I can point to people in all generations today who want the things that create engagement: knowing what’s expected, feeling appreciated (and noticed!), being part of the broader mission of the business, etc. In fact, the eight factors of engagement from the book Nine Lies About Work by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall go into more detail about what these factors are more specifically.

Time to take action

We are at a crossroads in leadership in the ag industry. Does the industry look the same as it did 30 years ago? No. And 30 years ago, it didn’t look the same as it did 30 years prior to that. We can stay in our spiral of “this generation...” and continue to have challenges in our retention happen to us. OR, we can focus on the things we can control and take action.

That action doesn’t need to be perfect, and likely won’t be anyway. As our business coach likes to encourage us — it's time to take “imperfect action.”

What actions can you take first?

  1. Adjust your intent. How frequently do you connect with your team with the intent of learning about their perspective and their ideas (rather than just wanting to get something checked off the list)? Your team has ideas you may not have considered yet, and just needs a safe opportunity to share those with you.
  2. Listen carefully. Is your response shutting others down? When your team speaks up, how do you respond? Do you brush off an idea, because you tried that a few years ago and it didn’t work? Or do you say we just can’t make that kind of a purchase right now? While both of these statements might be true, how you respond will determine whether your team continues to bring these ideas to you!
  3. Ask more questions. Just because you think you know what someone is saying doesn’t mean you’ve got it right. Ask questions or draw out more information using phrases like “Say more about that...” or “We tried something like this before and found this out. What ideas do you have that could help us work around that here?” or “We’re limited to spending $1,500 to fix this. What ideas do you have that could help us fix this while also staying in these boundaries?”

One of my favorite things about working with clients in agribusinesses is the ingenuity, creativity, and flexibility that’s been part of the industry since it began. There’s always a way to work with a problem, to find a new solution, and to give it a shot. Leading our teams is no different. The “problem” we are facing today is one that is perfectly suited for ag, actually. It’s time for us to take the next step and start taking that imperfect action — by how we interact, and how we engage with our team.

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