As we stood by the grave-side of my friend’s father we both noticed two Canada Geese winging overhead as the casket was being lowered into the grave. I smiled and thought God had provided a gentle reminder that He was there; the geese mate for life, and they flew overhead to remind me of the strength of family bonds.
My friend’s father was a great, gentle leader in his community, and also blessed his family with great conversations, meaningful touch and a ready ear to listen to their concerns and queries. His legacy of love spilled forth in a two-hour funeral service where many of us felt we wished we had spent more time with this awesome man. The celebration of his life caused us to consider how to be more intentional with the time we have left on earth, to make a difference, especially with our own families.
As a farm family business coach working out conflict resolution and succession planning conversations I am curious to find the right words or “tough questions” to move families to action and build a legacy.
I am calling on you, as a father, to be a leader for your family. I urge you to stand up for what is right, honest and true, and lead your family with strong character and integrity. This works out in practical ways by being present in the conversations and dialogues about change for your family. It implies that you will listen intently to the perspective of others, weigh the options presented, and make wise decisions with a collaborative style, not an autocratic tough hand.
Family secrets are not allowed. You will communicate directly to the children, adults and extended family members who may have to hear some tough words from you. You will mediate with fairness and patience so that the skills you model will leave a legacy of collaboration instead of the curse of conflict avoidance.
You will be a strong enough man to have the courage to ask for outside advise or counsel when you are not sure that you have all the information necessary to make the best decision. You are wise like a respected community elder, and you do not do things in haste.
We can read heaps of information about tax planning and share structures for transferring the farm to the next generation, but I haven’t seen much work done to expose the cowardice of men and women who shy away from doing the tough things right in planning open communication with the successors of their business. Backroom deals or secret meetings with the lawyer keep me employed, and that’s not a good thing.
Fathers need to be courageous in having direct conversations with the folks who will be impacted by the nature of their legal and accounting decisions.
HOW TO BE A LEADER
What do fathers need in order to give leadership to their families?
Respect: Fathers need sons who verbally affirm the role their dads have played in helping them succeed. This also translates into a deep sense of appreciation for the sacrifices and delayed gratification modelled by the founding generation so that the sons and daughters could get a decent start in farming. Respect is of course a two-way street, and is most helpful when it is reciprocated.
Integrity: Do what you say you will do, and be honest. Family lies and secret-keeping are abusive. Integrity in farming speaks of sound character that your “word is your bond” and you can be trusted to do what you say you will do.
Pride: Good pride is ripened when you have a keen sense of what true success means to you. It’s bad pride when it keeps you stuck in behaviour that elicits arrogance or stubbornness to change. Fathers who are proud of their work and proud of how they have transferred their learnings to their adult children can use the energy of success to fuel future good choices.
Trust: Can you trust your family to make the right choices even when you are gone? Fathers who die “before their time” and fathers who have a tight fist of control may leave a legacy of conflict and confusion rather that solid agreements that let everyone rest in the peace of certainty.
Process time: Timing is everything with good management, yet sometimes we get stuck in the neutral zone and don’t act with concrete decisions that are implemented. Dads, you need to talk with your family and decide to act on what you have communicated clearly to your farm family. You don’t let the wild oats go crazy in your crop, so please don’t let the tough decisions slide.
As my master coaching colleague John Schuster says, “Leadership as a set of skills and as a head and heart set is available to most of us and needed everywhere.”
“Mental toughness is humility, simplicity, Spartanism. And love… Love is loyalty. Love is teamwork… Heart-power is the strength of your corporation,” said Vince Lombardi speaking to the American Management Association.
Lead with love. Farm dads are hurting because their love tanks are running on empty. This year I urge you to be courageous and write a note of appreciation to your farming dad with an attitude of gratitude for the sacrifices he’s made for your farm team. If there needs to be forgiveness for past messes, then fess up and finish this crop year with a clean slate and more love in your relationships.
Courage to lead and heart are the qualities of spirit that farm families desperately need. Schuster calls it the “courage of countless little acts; trying something new, taking the heat for our mistakes, picking ourselves up for the next round, giving up the illusion of control and replacing it with employee empowerment.”
Choose to be a respectful, honest, loving leader of your farm family. Model what’s right for the next generation. Celebrate and be a strong farm team. Fathers, give your family your leadership!
I look forward to hearing your stories. Look up and see the possibilities of strong bonds.
Happy Father’s Day Dad, we appreciate all that you do and your enduring love!
Elaine Froese listens to the challenges of farm families planning for change. She is a member of CAFA, the Canadian Association of Farm Advisors (see www.cafanet.com)and the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers. See her at www.agvisiontv.comor www.elainefroese.com.