One snowy day at a beautiful ranch home in southern Alberta around the expansive kitchen table, the farm team said, “Elaine you should make a list of your top phrases that you use in coaching.”
“OK,” I said, knowing that many of the best projects are started by attentive practical ranchers and farmers who call it like they see it.
- It is your farm. Your family. Your choice. This is my essential message as a coach. I want farm folks to build new scenarios for the new chapters in their lives, that suit their values and goals. Many folks who feel “stuck” have not stopped to talk with themselves about what they really want in their life, their family and their farm business. Are you sensing a new chapter coming up for your life? What choices do you have to make before some new experiences happen?
- You get the behaviour you accept. So why are you putting up with bad behaviour? Folks — you do not have to allow abuse, profanity, or nasty behaviour on your farm. Stand up for what you believe is right. Find support beyond your farm gate.
- That was then and this is now. (Attributed to my mother-in-law, Margaret Froese.) Meaning that things change and you might need to make a new decision for the present and the future. Some founders make promises to successors that have to be broken when the financial reality dictates that the founders need more money for their reinvention years. Plans can change, but the basic trust doesn’t need to be harmed if the parties can all be honest, transparent, and agree to talk about their disappointment.
- A farm is not a piece of pie. This means the critical mass of assets needs to stay with the farm owner or shareholders. Create another wealth bubble for your non-business heirs or have great agreements that allow access to the land for the farm operation. Parents are not responsible to ensure that all of their adult children are economically equal. Many adult children have wealth creation goals that don’t demand large gifts from hard-working founders. Perhaps if you sat down with your children you’d discover that their main desire is for you to have some rewards now to be able to enjoy the fruit of your labour.
- Change is inevitable, growth is optional. Change is going to happen, but are you ready to embrace it and work through the necessary steps to achieve your goals in a timely fashion and meet the needs of your team? The Hudson Institute gave me a great map called the “cycle of renewal” that helps families navigate change and make mini-transitions to get aligned again with their vision and goals. Life is not a straight line, and we are more resilient to the bumps in the road when we take a “learner” approach.
- You are good enough. This is a take on Brene Brown’s work where she says, “You are enough.” Many young farmers feel that no matter how hard they work it is never “good enough.” All of our farms could use more intentional affirmation. Lately I have been asked to speak about “encouraging the heart of your farm.” We all need more affirmation and appreciation on our farm teams.
- Divorce on farms does not have to happen. This saying provoked a profane outburst at one of my seminars, but I meant it. Love and respect for all players and spouses on your farm will go a long way to avoiding the divorce courts. Sometimes I think people don’t ask for professional help soon enough, and then the pain and wounds are far too deep to be healed.
- When is it her turn to get what she needs? This is the uncomfortable question posed to the aging founder who has been married for over 45 years and still cannot see what his wife is longing for in a new chapter of life beyond the farm. She wants to move away from the main yard (Grand Central Station) and spend more time with her hobbies and friends in town. She is tired. She knows her husband still wants a role on the farm, but now it needs to be different, as the next generation becomes the main manager.
- A conversation is not a contract. My friend Jolene Brown likely coined this term first, and she is right. Many promises as conversations will not hold up when challenged. Families in business are wise to write things down in agreements that keep a record of what was decided and promised.
- Love does not read minds. I think I was told this as a young bride by our minister, and I used this phrase recently in a coaching call. It was powerful when I saw the young farmer’s binder page with the quote in BOLD block letters. He is planning to make it into a wooden plaque for his kitchen.
- You have options, you can leave. A young frustrated farm woman asked me in a seminar Q&A what to do with a father-in-law who was not treating her with respect. I quickly said, “Just leave.” She did not leave, but the notion that she did have the option to choose a different path gave her the freedom to make her current situation different. She now blogs about agriculture and we had the pleasure of reuniting a few months ago. I had no idea of the power of the phrase until she told me her story. You can find out more about “necessary endings” in our book Farming’s In-Law Factor. Chapter 10 talks about what to do when things don’t work out.
- Conflict resolution is a business risk management strategy. Discuss the “undiscussabull.” I believe that conflict avoidance is one of the huge boulders holding agriculture back. Many founders have a fear of conflict, so they procrastinate and do not have courageous conversations. Attack an issue without attacking the person, and get resolution. Don’t waste emotional energy on “drama.” Learn to focus on solving problems with effective focused management.