Do You Know What Farm Kids Know about 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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