Do You Know What Farm Kids Know about Leadership?

by  Mary C. Schaefer  |  Self Leadership

I grew up on a farm. Yep, that’s me on the right, at 5-years old, working with my father. Notice the stripe-on-stripe outfit. I dressed myself that day. And that’s not the only thing I did that day…

Farm kids learn responsibility early.

I would say I “added value” as early as age 5. I knew this because it was obvious to me what happened when I lolly-gagged. It slowed my father down.

He was not able to pack the cantaloupes as fast if I did not have them ready for him to pick up. Today I know that moving faster got our product to market faster, and the employees on their ways home (and off the clock) faster.

I worked in some capacity all summer on my family farm until I was a rising senior in college. I really didn’t appreciate what I got from it until after I worked at my corporate job for two to three years after college. It then dawned on me that I learned:

  • Consider: are you “too good” for any job? – If I saw something that needed to be done, like my trash can needing to be emptied in the middle of the day, I wasn’t going to ask someone else to do that. After years of digging in the dirt I didn’t give what some consider “dirty work” a second thought.
  • Do your work until it’s done – When it makes sense, work until the task is done. No reason to create a manufactured break or even leave precisely at 5pm. when 15 more minutes would get something finished.
  • If you’re done and someone else isn’t, help them – Just because I wasn’t specifically assigned something, doesn’t mean I can’t help you sort through those training manuals as you look overwhelmed and the job needs to be finished before the end of the day..

What does this have to do with leadership?

It could be said that there is good reason to not do the things I’m describing above. I remember getting chastised once by a senior colleague for helping an administrative assistant with some tedious work. From his perspective, it was beneath me.

My colleague actually said to me, in front of the assistant, “You’re getting paid too much to do that.” Yes, I get that. My thought was, I’ll make up my other work on my own time, and by the way, you just made a big withdrawal with this woman sitting beside me. And I just made a big deposit by remaining here to help her.

You’ve got to pick your moments certainly, and hand off tasks depending on the circumstances. But I was consciously choosing to help her.

What he didn’t bother to find out was that she was working on a project I was leading, and I wasn’t about to dump all this work on her. In this case, to me, passing off this task without my willingness to help would define it as “dirty work” to her.

I wanted to make an impression on her. I elevated the task we were doing by my own willingness to do it. I wanted her to see it as important and her part as important because it appeared, by my example, that no level of work was not important to me.

Isn’t that what leadership is, creating an environment where people want to give their all and their best? Ask any farm kid.

Originally posted on Mary’s blog:

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About The Author

Articles By mary-schaefer
Speaker, coach and trainer Mary Schaefer’s expertise is in creating work cultures where organizations and human beings can both thrive. She is a former HR manager. Find out more about how Mary helps managers empower themselves to make the most of their human resources with this special collection of articles selected for LCG readers:  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Matt  |  05 Aug 2011  |  Reply

Great post and great information! I’ve always wondered where people got the idea that ANY work was beneath them? Maybe it’s an ego issue… they don’t have enough self confidence to perform that duty and NOT let it define them. Really makes you think about some “leaders”.

Thanks for sharing!


Mary C Schaefer  |  06 Aug 2011  |  Reply

Thanks so much for your comment, Matt. I totally agree with you that some folks are letting a task define them, and that demonstrates problems with ego, confidence and I think insecurity is also part of the equation. Sigh. Well, in the meantime, we’ll just go on leading. :)

Jon M  |  06 Aug 2011  |  Reply

As a farm kid, I can relate to your post! Growing up on a farm teaches you many solid life and leadership lessons. One I would add to your list is that you learn to deal with circumstances. In farming, much is out of your control, but you work through the challenging times and savor the good ones.

I think spending a summer on a farm should be a required camp for future leaders!



Mary C Schaefer  |  06 Aug 2011  |  Reply

Really good addition, Jon. So true!

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