Things on our farm are changing again — an employee moving on. In Stephen Poulter’s book The Father Factor, he talks about the fathering style of a “compassionate mentor.” This is a great style for farm founders to embrace over the winter months as they train the next generation for success. Smart farm dads and moms realize that family employees who stay farming are happy and passionate about their farm team roles.
Let’s look at why we need more merciful mentors on our farms:
1. Successful people have great role models and people who share wisdom.
2. We need different people at different stages of our life. Our young married son has a great connection to peer farmers, but he also relies on input from his father who has over 35 years’ experience in the game of farming.
3. “The Lone Ranger” is a myth, says Rev. Gaetane Marshall. She says that we need a support system to survive, one with accountability checks. Do you know any “Lone Ranger” farmers who refuse to ask for help from professional advisers?
4. Affirmation is necessary for survival. A letter of appreciation and encouragement to your farming son/daughter or parents this Christmas is probably the most priceless gift that you can give. Put pen to paper, or keyboard to printer and share affirmations with your farm team, especially family.
5. We need someone to show us how it is done. And be flexible to do it in a new way.
New technology is not “new” to someone who has never known any different, i.e. our young successor son. He keeps telling me just to keep pushing buttons, because he knows I am afraid something will break, which of course it will not!
6. Mentoring is your opportunity to “pass on the baton,” as John Maxwell says. It creates legacy.
“Mentoring is investing in the life of another person, a service of increasing someone else to make them great, decreasing self and releasing the gifts of another,” says Gaetane Marshall.
As a farm family coach it brings me huge joy to hear a farming dad say, “Elaine, I made a lot of mistakes in my early years, that I really want to protect my son from repeating.” This is the heart’s cry of a successful business person being very self-aware of how his actions impact the learning points of his successor. This father has an attitude of lifelong learning and wisdom to empower the next generation with. He is not interested in being controlling, cloning himself, criticizing or making himself co-dependent with the next generation. As mentors we all need to be wise about setting boundaries, and not doing too much for one we are mentoring.
Our goal as farm parents who want to create legacy is to help increase the success of others on our farm team. We can develop a network of mentors for the next generation in many different phases of their farming career development. As a farm coach, mom, and wife, I explore work/life balance options with young families. This is an ongoing journey, not something that is fixed with a checklist of “to-do” items and then it is done. Farm families want to be thriving, not just surviving the daily stresses.
How attractive are you as a mentor? Do you manage your emotions well? Can you see difficult feedback as a learning and growth opportunity rather than judgment?
Attitude is a huge deal. Watching a father and son discuss options for capital purchases, marketing, production with a respectful tone and sense of “equality as partners” is a beautiful thing. Getting calls about the founders who refuse to make new shareholder agreements or come to a table for open discussion of a new vision for the farm is depressing.
There is an expectation of an exchange of ideas with respect and accountability when the mentoring relationship is working well.
Here is Marshall’s list (farmers love concise lists I am told) of mentoring in motion:
2. Watch for potential, passion and positive attitude.
3. Initiate and invest. Set boundaries, don’t overfunction.
4. Give timely advice.
5. Be a role model. (Handle communication and conflict well.)
6. Give encouragement, feedback, correction, accountability, discipline.
7. Provide co-working training opportunities.
8. Give freedom, to make mistakes and adopt a learning culture.
9. Expect a good return and exchange of ideas and outcomes.
10. Follow up. What is working well? What is not working so great?
As a Christian, Rev. Gaetane Marshall sees mentoring principles from the wisdom of biblical principles. Use these thoughts for insight on how you want to show up in your farm or business as a compassionate mentor. People of principle and integrity make fantastic mentors.
- The Barnabus Principle: It’s not about you. You must decrease so another may increase so God can release.
- Free Will and Follow Prin-ciple: They choose to follow or not. This is not about coercing your successor to be mentored by you.
- The Principle of Exchange: It is a relationship of living giving exchange. Both bring something to the relationship. Many sons would just love their dad/bosses to say, “I am proud of you and all that you accomplished here this year!”
- The Elijah and Elisha Principle: The principle of the double portion. Elisha had a servant’s heart, increasing Elijah’s spiritual inheritance. Some farming sons will surpass the growth of the founders, increasing the value of the farm business. Can everyone celebrate this success?
- The Principle of a Transitioning Figure: rather than a permanent fixture. Mentors are in our lives for a time and a season, they are not meant to be “forever” as at some stage the relationship becomes one of “co-mentoring” each other.
- The Principle of Transparency: We are all human, and we all make mistakes. Compassionate mentors can share failures, and successes.
- The Principle of Sowing and Reaping. This principle is hard-wired into farmers who expect a harvest. What you reap, you will sow, so sow generously. †