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Be a great dairy owner; be these 4 things

Progressive Dairyman Editor Walt Cooley Published on 26 May 2017

You may not think of yourself as the CEO for your dairy because you don’t wear a tie or have a corner office, but you are a chief executive officer. Once you’ve come to terms with your C-suite status, I would recommend you read a recent article from the Harvard Business Review.

The article, “What sets successful CEOs apart” from the May/June 2017 issue, summarizes a research study that aimed to identify the common characteristics of great CEOs. More than 17,000 CEOs and their performance were reviewed. The research found great CEOs are decisive, engaged, adaptive and consistent.

Here’s how I see those four traits of successful CEOs apply on your dairy:

  • First, be decisive. The Harvard Business Review article says great leaders “make decisions earlier, faster and with greater conviction.” They don’t allow themselves to become bottlenecks nor are they worried about making bad decisions.

“Our analysis suggests that while every CEO makes mistakes, most of them are not lethal,” the authors write.

That’s probably the case on your dairy too. Is the choice to ship a low-producing cow to market this week or next something to get hung up on? That one decision isn’t likely lethal to your dairy.

A suggestion for improving your decisiveness is to start asking the question: Is this decision, by itself, one that could be lethal to our dairy? If yes, take some time with it. If no, then move quickly. Doing so will improve your leadership.

  • Second, be engaged. This means you can’t bring your cellphone to a staff meeting and check text messages. As important as those messages may be, you’re communicating that whatever is on your phone is more important than what’s being discussed.

    As a dairy owner, realize you are communicating even when you don’t think you are. You must be present.

“Every comment and facial expression you make will be read and magnified 10 times by the organization,” one CEO quoted in the article says.

Dairy owners, my advice about how to avoid sending the wrong message: If you’ve had a bad day and putting on a good face will take too much energy, postpone. Politely excuse yourself if you’re OK with decisions being made without you there, or reschedule. Being engaged takes a lot of energy. Make sure you have enough of it when interacting with your team.

  • Third, adapt. The authors of the Harvard Business Review article say that adaptable CEOs spent “significantly more of their time – as much as 50 percent – thinking about the long term … As a result, they sense change earlier and make strategic moves to take advantage of it.”

Being adaptive is probably the hardest of the four characteristics for dairy owners to achieve. There’s so much to get done on a dairy each day, it leaves little time for thinking about the big picture.

My suggestion for how to become more adaptable on your farm is to increase the time you spend on big-picture thinking by 50 percent. If you spend 10 minutes per day thinking about that right now, find a way to increase it to 15 minutes per day. That extra 50 percent will make you even more adaptable to change.

  • Finally, be consistent. The authors’ research found great leaders follow through on their commitments, have a “cadence of meetings” and monitor team performance unceasingly.

    For dairy owners, this means you must follow your own dairy’s standard operating procedures – just like any other employee. If you say you’ll get something fixed, put a deadline on it and do it by then. Reliability will build your leadership capital.

Likely, there is one or more of these characteristics you thought you could improve as you read this. I did. They can seem overwhelming. My advice: Don’t try to tackle them all at once.

Pick one of the four traits you know you can develop. Do that one thing well for a couple of months, and then come back and revisit this list. I bet it makes you feel more like a big-shot CEO to do so.  end mark

Walt Cooley
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