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Pet the dog

Mark Andrew Junkin Published on 22 May 2015

dog illustration

For farmers who came from nothing to build something impressive, praise is something they don’t comprehend. They never realize what it’s like to walk in the footsteps of a successful father.

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For each generation, you are going to have different motivational factors. For men born into poverty, the drive not to starve is their motivating factor. However, if you’ve never starved and were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, you don’t fear poverty. Pride and being perceived as successful like their father motivate many men who are born into a successful operation.

Some men don’t live for money; they live for praise from someone they respect. However, praise is rarely given out on a farm. A lack of praise is something that can be a good thing on a farm. If the son doesn’t hear praise, he will work that much harder to get it. But, after a while, if he doesn’t hear praise, the constant negativity will become detrimental to his mindset.

It’s like corn. If there isn’t rain at the surface, the corn just sends roots deeper into the soil to find water. Plants that have rain too early in the season don’t develop the necessary root structure to weather droughts mid-summer during critical growth periods. It’s the same with some men.

Withholding praise can make a man work harder for it, creating not a good manager but a stellar one. However, for a man to work hard and never receive praise is like a plant that never finds moisture in the soil. They will wither up and die. There are times when a crop needs a timely rain, just like a young man needs timely praise.

For example, Josh lived in his father’s footsteps. His father was a good man and a heck of a dairyman. The farm’s accountant had the top dairy operations in the region and the return on investment was incredible.

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At a young age, Josh was a go-getter and could do any job on the farm. His dad, John, had the wisdom to step out of his son’s way and let him do it. John loved breeding cows and the dynamics of making breeding decisions; it was his favorite job as a dairyman. Yet for the past eight years, he had let his son take that role.

Contrary to most farming operations, the father had stepped out of his role as manager when his son had come home from college. The father had volunteered to do the dirty jobs. This allowed his son to take over the critical management tasks and for the father to mentor his son’s management style.

Josh only heard negative comments from his dad. His dad walked through the barn daily and tried to find one fault with the farm’s management in order to take the farm from good to great. It had made his son a fantastic manager, and the farm was extremely profitable.

However, the son’s mindset went from worshipping his father to despising him. Every word he uttered caused the son to cringe, and he was demanding that his father retire, move to town and not have anything to do with the farm.

The father couldn’t understand what he had done wrong.

I was talking to him in the yard when the ugliest, mangy, one-eared golden retriever came up to me wanting to be petted. The dog jumped up on me as if to dance, placing his dirty paw prints on my starched white shirt. The dad kicked the dog away and apologized for the dog’s misbehavior. Yet despite the father’s light kick, the dog kept coming back to be petted.

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I looked at him and said: “Your son’s like this dog. He loves to be petted and lives for it. Every now and then, you’ve kicked your dog to let him know when he’s done something wrong. But if the dog can only expect to be kicked, he’s never going to want to be petted.

He’s going to start either running away from you, or if you corner him, he’ll snarl at you. Some dogs will be dumb enough, like this one, to keep coming back after you’ve kicked him, but other dogs are more sensitive. Most dogs you can only kick once in a while, and if you kick them every day, they’ll never come lick your face first thing in the morning.

“Your son is just like this dog. It’s good to give critical feedback, but for each criticism you give you’ve got to give at least two praises. You never got praise from your father ever in your life. However, your son lives for praise, and it’s what drives him.”

Now, I don’t endorse the abuse of animals, and this story was simply an illustration. That day, I curtly told the father, “Just think about that,” and I jumped in my truck and drove away. PD

Mark Andrew Junkin improves how farm families make decisions together in the years prior to farm succession. Get his book, “Farming with Family: Ain’t Always Easy!” onlineor call(800) 474-2057.

Illustration by Fredric Ridenour.

mark junkin

Mark Andrew Junkin
Management Consultant

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