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The benefits of servant leadership in your dairy business

Hank Wagner for Progressive Dairy Published on 11 August 2020

Before we discuss some of the benefits of servant leadership, l would like to help you clearly understand leadership.

It is a potentially complicated subject that has a seemingly endless supply of books and magazines trying to explain it. Many college courses are also dedicated to teaching it, but it does not have to be that complicated. Some of what makes it complicated is people’s perception of leadership. Leadership seems to mean different things to different people.



The easiest – and best – explanation I have ever heard comes from John C. Maxwell: “Leadership is influence, nothing more, and nothing less.” If you are having influence, and I am quite sure you are, it means you are leading. John also says another way to gauge your leadership is to turn around and look at who is following. If nobody is following, you are only taking a walk.

There are a few different styles of leadership, with positional leadership and servant leadership being the most common. I do not wish to spend much time in this short article on positional leadership, but essentially, it is leading through a title or position. Sometimes we get lulled into thinking people must follow us if we hold a leadership position, but that is not always true. People may quit our businesses or never apply in the first place if a strong positional leader is in charge. Sometimes, people will follow a positional leader on the outside, but their hearts are not willing to buy into the leader, or his or her vision, goals or ideas.

Servant leaders may still have a title or position, but they pay little attention to it. Yes, it is extremely important to have a clear organizational chart, or chain of command, but a servant leader will not have to remind people of his or her authority to get performance. Servant leaders know trust is very important, and they take extra steps to earn that trust. People are unwilling to follow leaders they feel cannot be trusted. This is an election year, and we are all being bombarded with political propaganda. Listen closely to the message; most of them are working on the trust card.

Servant leaders usually do not have big egos. They are not leading to use people for their own gain; they are leading to serve people. Servant leadership does not mean it is all about the people you are leading. I believe that win-win relationships, or teams, are best and most productive. We may think we are only hiring a person to do a job and that the only thing that matters is how well they do that job. Would you rather work for a boss who is interested in your ideas, your vision and goals? Taking some time to understand why a person came to work for you, or what some of their personal goals are, can go a long way to creating that win-win relationship.

Many people think a family cannot be a win-win situation, but it certainly is possible. It is true children should listen to and respect their parents, but isn’t it also a good idea to listen to and value our children? I am in no way saying children should run the family, but listening to some of their ideas and goals can also create the same win-win atmosphere. For example, your child may want to buy a new bike or a new car. Help that child see how having some responsibilities at home, or a job elsewhere, can contribute to that goal.


There are people who think servant leadership is passive, and that it means you must always give people everything they want. Once again, this is not true. If we give our children everything they want, we are not doing them any favors. They will be spoiled brats who will be totally unprepared for a world that has little desire to pamper their needs. Serving them should also include discipline, training and, of course, rewards for good choices or excellent performance.

The same holds true for our employees. If we pay them all triple what the market allows for salaries, it is likely they will not have a business to work at very long. We can still care about them. There are many options other than just money to fulfill the win-win relationship. It may be a little extra time off, a gift card for gas for a job well done, or sometimes simply a smile and a heartfelt thank you will go a long way.

It would not be fair to say all positional leaders do not care for their people, but caring about the people they are leading is one of the defining traits of all servant leaders. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” ––former president Theodore Roosevelt.  end mark

PHOTO: Staff photo.

Hank Wagner is a dairy farmer in Oconto Falls, Wisconsin.