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Four competencies every leader should work on

Progressive Dairyman Editor Karen Lee Published on 01 March 2018
Lee Cockerell

Whether an owner of a dairy operation or ag-related company, a manager or an employee looking to excel, there are four competencies everyone should work to improve.

Lee Cockerell, former executive vice president of operations for the Walt Disney World Resort, listed each of these competencies and why they are important during his training at the 2018 Managers Academy in Orlando, Florida.



1. Technical competence

Technical competence can be improved through experience, reading, attending meetings and learning from one another.

By improving technical expertise, an individual can improve how they do their work.

“It’s probably the easiest thing to do in your life, because you probably like what you’re doing. You’re in the business. You’re always looking for the better idea, the way to save money or the way to improve productivity,” Cockerell said.

Every individual owns their technical competency, and the improvement of it should not be the sole responsibility of an employer.

If technical competency is lacking, schedule time for more, whether it is attending a meeting, enrolling in a class or making a farm visit.


“If you don’t keep up, you become irrelevant and you get behind,” he said. “It starts to cost you more and your profits go down.”

2. Management competence

“The definition of management is the act of controlling. When you manage something, you are supposed to keep it under control,” Cockerell said.

As a project manager that means the project is under control, on time, on budget, using safe practices and well-trained individuals.

“Did you ever go to a restaurant where the manager was present but the room was not being managed?” he asked. “It wasn’t under control.”

At a well-managed restaurant, the hostess greets guests at the door, the dining area and bathrooms are clean, the music is at the right volume, the server comes over right away, they are knowledgeable about the menu and, at the end of the meal, they deliver the check when it is wanted. Those are all signs that someone is in control of the business.

“I guarantee you that at a lot of places you do business today, there is a manager present, but it is not being managed,” Cockerell said.


Whether managing a business, a project or life in general, a plan is necessary to make things happen. While he acknowledged a smartphone is a useful device, Cockerell said after 35 years of teaching time management, he still abides by a written planner for task lists of what to be done each day, each week, each month and each year.

“You’re supposed to be planning something in your life if you want it to go,” he said.

Most people do well at planning projects or vacations, but they fall short in planning their personal life.

“You know how to do it, but your personal life is totally screwed up because you have no plans; you just kind of work through the day and things happen. You’re not doing enough things on purpose,” Cockerell said.

He added, the first thing everyone should do each day is to take five to 10 minutes to reflect on the previous day.

“Reflect on what didn’t go well, what you should have done, the conversation you had with a client or with an employee or with your wife or with your kids, or how you could have handled something differently,” he said.

In reflecting and thinking of a different way to handle a situation, it can help in how the same situation would be handled in the future.

“Reflection is a very powerful thing,” Cockerell said. “Most people do not reflect. We’re busy. We just keep going forward. We keep making the same mistakes over and over and over, because we don’t take the time to analyze what we did yesterday and how we could have done it better.”

The second thing everyone should do each day is think about the list of responsibilities they signed up for in life and if they are putting enough time against each one.

This list varies for each individual but could include a spouse or partner, children, retirement, aging parents or grandparents, personal development, relationships, health, place of worship, volunteer organizations, etc.

“Time management is about scheduling the priorities in your life,” he said. “Get them in your calendar. If something is important to you, it will be in your calendar.”

The other things that need to be on a calendar are the hard things – a conversation with an employee who is not performing or a hard decision to be made.

“If you take the easy route, life gets harder. When you do the hard things, life gets easier,” Cockerell said.

Accomplishing the hard things in life raises confidence and increases the ability to get things done.

3. Technological competence

Advancing technologies play a big role in business today. “You’ve got to keep up. If you don’t keep up, you’ll become irrelevant and you’ll get behind,” Cockerell said.

Read about technologies, look at advances made in other businesses and think about how it can be applied to a dairy operation.

He suggested dairy operators share with each other what they are doing and finding out in terms of technologies and their applications.

4. Leadership competence

There’s a difference between management and leadership. A person doesn’t have to be a manager to have leadership competence and to be someone that others trust and are happy to work with each day.

Cockerell said Frances Hesselbein, former CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA, describes the difference as “management is about how to do and leadership is about how to be.”

As discussed, management is about being in control, planning and getting things done. Leadership is about being honest, a person of integrity, who does the right thing and is there for their people.

“I have come to the conclusion that we are doing a lot of doing in this country and not a lot of being,” Cockerell said.

“We need to be doing both. We need to be getting things done, and we need to be the kind of people that are setting the right example and doing the right things,” he added.

Consider these four competencies every day and think about the necessary changes to make to become more competent in each area. To be technically better helps an individual to do a better job. To be a better manager helps a person get more done. To be in tune with changing technology can help improve service and productivity. To improve leadership abilities can create a positive environment.  end mark

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PHOTO: Lee Cockerell identifies four competencies an individual must maintain to be a good leader in their workplace and their personal lives. Photo by Ray Merritt.