First of all, my apologies to any readers named “Nancy.” This is not really about you. I have coined the phrase “nasty Nancy” to describe anger-filled farm coaching clients. These are the folks who are extremely negative; they threaten to leave the room and the conversation often. They are really closed off to any awareness of how their cruel habits are driving the farm to “rack and ruin.”
Lest you think that I am talking about your farm or ranch, please be aware that the names in this column have been changed to protect the innocent, and my scenarios are composite stories of learnings along my coaching journey.
I understand the value of being thankful and appreciative. I think it has been written many times before that we should be acting out “thanks living” every day of our lives.
It saddens me to see farm families grasping for solutions to the age-old problem of lack of appreciation, and missing general kindness and civility from the founders of the farm. The employees who had one day hoped to be equity partners in a thriving ag business, leave the farm in their prime because they just can’t take being taken for granted, anymore. If nasty Nancy is married to loving Larry, Larry may well decide to end the marriage contract, and spend more time with his cows (or vice versa).
Bullying behaviour from workaholic founders or early exits of potential, well-intentioned successors is costing farms way too much in terms of emotional relational capital, and affecting the balance sheet. Sometimes the successors are nasty, too, which just adds fuel to the conflict fire, rather that addressing issues.
We reap what we sow. If readers could tell me who sowed all the foxtail barley in pasture fields, we might attack the source, and cultivate away the problem. Foxtail barley rubbed up against skin and socks is itchy and irritating to hikers. The same holds true for minor irritations that evolve into large tirades that crush any hope of things changing for the better. You get the behaviour you allow or accept. It is time to say, “let’s practise being more thankful for each other’s contributions to our business, and our family.”
Enough of the negative effects of ingratitude. How do you challenge the behaviour?
1. Acknowledge that each of us as adult farmers are responsible for our responses to other’s behaviours and words. I get to choose my response. They say that it’s the little foxes that spoil the vineyards. What small random acts of kindness and thankfulness can you intentionally create this week?
2. Past behaviour tends to be a very good indicator of future performance. This is why next-gen farmers leave for other careers or farms where they will be appreciated for their skills and insights. They don’t have to work with “time bomb” style fathers forever. (See Stephen Poulter’s book The Father Factor.)
3. Now that you are an expert at getting maximum production and efficiency out of your fields and livestock, it is time to brush up your human resource or people skills.
I know your cows understand you, it’s time to start understanding the power of appreciation and gratitude showered on respectful partners, family and employees.
One of the greatest stumbling blocks to stalling a great business continuance plan (a.k.a. succession plan) is lack of appreciation.
4. Eating your gold alone is a lonely endeavour, and you can’t take it with you when you pass away, i.e. die. Some farmers see gifts as their preferred way of being affirmed, maybe in the form of cash, land, or bonus canola cheques. It’s time to figure out how your way of being affirmed as a decent bloke in the business is best confirmed. Do you want words of verbal affirmation? Do you want quality time with your family? Do you want action or acts of service, such as the tools being put away in the shop without a tirade? Perhaps just a firm squeeze on the shoulder for a job well done will keep you humming until the killing frost.
5. Use regular farm business meetings with issues on the agenda to attack the problem, and not the person.
The folks that entrust me to facilitate the sacred space of farm family meetings know well what relief feels like when the words of appreciation, forgiveness, and gratitude start flowing.
The emotional cost of being a “nasty Nancy or cruel Charlie” is immeasurable if you lose the relationship of your son or daughter and their children. The financial cost of taking others for granted can cause huge conflict avoidance and fear that keeps folks away from the source of fierce conflict triggers. This means that farms that need infrastructure changes, or capital planning restructuring, don’t get things done, because everyone is avoiding the bully, and staying clear of being unappreciated.
Fear is a horrible motivator for lasting change. It’s way better to be proactive and challenge the nastiness, rather that just accepting it as something that no one has the power to address or change. Find your voice, and speak up!
Let’s resolve to be emotionally healthy adult farmers. Look in the mirror first. Chat with your spouse for helpful, loving feedback. Embrace the behaviours that are going to groom the next generation to want to love being on the farm for the next 30 years, and create an emotionally rich legacy. That’s the relational capital that costs thousands when someone leaves hurting, and the balance sheet never quite recovers from the high cost of retraining or finding a passionate replacement.
If you are quiet and shy, find a non-verbal way to express your thanks to your farm team. If you are talkative, use a novel approach to show others how much you really care about them feeling appreciated. Break bread together, tell stories of the best part of this year so far, and find a way to build up the relational capital of your farm. In the end it’s really the richness of relationship that will outlast your time on earth.