What Leaders Can Learn From Farmers

by  Mary C. Schaefer  |  Leadership Development
What Leaders Can Learn From Farmers

I grew up on a farm. My family grew cantaloupes, watermelons, tomatoes, wheat, corn and more. I learned a lot from that experience. And what a gift — my father not only acted as a leader in my family life, but in my first exposure to work too. (I started doing little things to help as young as 5- or 6-years-old.)

Coincidentally, as an adult I worked for a crop protection products company for my entire corporate career. It just turned out that way. I realized recently that I rarely heard the word farmer at work. The terminology used in our business referred to farmers as growers. I’m guessing this was to distinguish between farmers who grow crops, probably seasonally (i.e. growers), as opposed to farmers that raise livestock. Either way, this got me thinking.

Are you a leader who knows the value of preparation?

I was describing to a friend recently what we would be doing on the farm in southern Indiana about this time of year. My dad would have readied mini-greenhouses where we planted seeds or seedlings for melons and tomatoes. Dad created the conditions to increase the likelihood of fruitful growth (pun intended) for each plant.

Pretty soon Dad would be scooping the boxed seedlings onto large wagons. He made sure the soil in the fields had the right nutrients. He used a large plow to dig furrows in the fields to receive the seedling plants. We exerted a lot of human effort getting those plants in the ground and planted properly.

The plants had to be planted deep enough, but not too deep. The roots had to be covered enough to withstand wind and rain to get a good start.

We tended to the plants for weeks making sure weeds didn’t overtake them. Dad kept an eye out for disease and such.

Of course spring would turn to summer. We began harvesting our crops knowing we’d given the plants the best chance to grow magnificently with all our preparation.

Are you a leader who’s a grower?

Whether you use the term farmer or grower, the message is the same. As a leader, your job is to tend to something so it will produce an optimal yield.

As a leader, how are you doing with those you are positioned to help grow? What are you doing to release the potential of the seeds of accomplishment in those who look to you for leadership?

It would have been a little silly of us to throw seeds or seedlings onto the soil in the fields and hope for the best. Are you thinking about the natural progression of the growth process of your team members?

Some points to consider:

  • Do you know where each of your team members is in their development process? Plants need different care depending on whether they are a seed, a seedling, or ready to produce fruit.
  • Is the development plan you designed together appropriate for the level of development for each person? Tomatoes and melons need different treatment from the greenhouse to harvest. Handling them the same is a recipe for disaster.
  • Have you looked at the terrain to ensure people are not setup to fail? The furrows dug to plant those plants had to be at the right depth or we were wasting our time.

Become educated in your craft

You are not a leader only because of your knowledge or skill. You also have others to bring along with you, so they grow and blossom to support the goals of the organization. Be sure you don’t take for granted what it takes to grow great employees. If necessary, create your own development plan so you will become a superior grower.

By the way, farmers who grow seasonal crops don’t take it easy in the autumn and winter. What do you do after the harvest to prepare for the next round?

What additional observations do you have after reading this look at farming and leadership?
Photo Credit: Pixabay/Pexels

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

dome greenhouses  |  18 May 2017  |  Reply

I think this was great and I’ve shared it with my followers!
Thanks for this important info.

Mary C. Schaefer  |  18 May 2017  |  Reply

Thanks Francesca. I so appreciate you commenting, and sharing the post.

Mary C. Schaefer  |  18 May 2017  |  Reply

Ran across another great connection to farming and leadership today. Reading a post about waiting, and how we often wait impatiently. It referenced a bible verse, James 5:7.

“See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.”

The article suggested we consider how the farmer waits—patiently and eagerly. We’re are to be hopeful, positive and full of expectancy! There’s no hurrying the growth process of those plants.

How often do we await development hopefully, and full of expectancy in those who look to us for leadership? Another nugget to learn from farmers that are skilled “growers.”

Todd from Starbucks Erickson  |  23 May 2017  |  Reply

Mary this was a great read! I absolutely loved the way you compared leading a team of employees as one would prepare fields for the growing season. Thank you for telling me about this piece!

Mary C. Schaefer  |  24 May 2017  |  Reply

Todd, so delighted to hear from you, and know that you read my piece. Please feel free to distribute broadly. (I love that you named yourself “Todd From Starbucks” so I would know who you were.) See you soon!

Maggie Mungania  |  30 May 2017  |  Reply

Great post ! your article is very enlightening. you have pointed on patience as key. it is an area that is not so easy but those who wait patiently leap greatly. Thank you Mary.

Mary C. Schaefer  |  30 May 2017  |  Reply

Thanks for bringing that point about patience, Maggie. That just might be another blogpost. BTW, thanks for including that quotation: “Those who wait patiently, leap greatly.” Perfect.

Jane  |  19 Jun 2017  |  Reply

Thank you for this post, Mary, and for your added comment. How valuable your insight into the process of growing living things. There are unique qualities and variations across plants and populations, all the while needing basic necessities that are provided in some form by a source outside itself. Leaders, growers, farmers, teachers, parents, friends The process, as you say is performed with great patience.

Mary C. Schaefer  |  19 Jun 2017  |  Reply

Thanks for taking the time to comment, Jane. The more I think about the connections between leadership and “growers/farmers” it can be overwhelming!

Join The Conversation