Urgency and Leadership by our Dairy Farm Managers

The world has become an uncertain place; however, we can be certain that volatility in climate and price will be a feature of our future operating environment. Coupled to this are the difficulties around attracting and retaining labour in an industry with little or no growth. It is clear that as dairy farm managers we will face many situations of urgency.

Urgency can be described as a situation needing swift action or attention. It is these situations on our dairy farms that often lead to accidents or on-farm mistakes that can lead to substantial losses.

Ray McLean, co-founder Leading Teams, in a recent leadership masterclass webinar outlined their urgency model which I believe is very applicable to the management of our dairy farms today (Figure 1).

Simply, as a situation becomes more urgent, then we need to be more directive in our leadership style – we need to call people to arms. The time to be consultative is when issues are less urgent. We can focus on the dynamics and culture of the business in less urgent times.

Mechanics – this is where we work with:

  • Known technical skills of the team
  • Our agreed operating principles
  • Pre-set KPIs for the farm
  • The farm operating plan

The KPIs and farm operating plan should articulate our common purpose.

Dynamics & Culture – this is all about:

  • Building the relationships with and within our teams
  • Agreeing on our behavioural frameworks
  • Having the important conversations with our team
  • Building a culture based on trust, honesty, and respect

When the proverbial hits the fan on a dairy farm and the situation becomes urgent, it is not the time to be working on dynamics and culture. We must be ready to shift into a directive leadership style and use the skills that we have within the team and the agreed operating principals to ensure that an urgent situation is controlled quickly. In urgent situations, we must have a clear leader and the leader must recognise that it is too late to teach!

Long term we must ensure that we have less urgent moments on our farms, and this will be achieved with better planning. Planning on our farms should include having longer-term strategic plans and clear operational plans that should be shared with the wider farm team.

Wolfie Wagner

CEO agCap Pty Ltd