3/09 People Power: Your leadership determines the success of your dairy

By Bob Milligan

What do the following persons have in common?

  • Barack Obama
  • Phil Jackson
  • Bob Stallman
  • Kris and Dave Carpenter
  • Yourself

The answer is that they are leaders.  Barack Obama is President.  Phil Jackson is coach of the Los Angeles Lakers professional basketball team.  Bob Stallman is president of the American Farm Bureau.  Kris and Dave Carpenter are parents of two children.  You, as a reader of this magazine, are likely an owner and certainly a leader in a dairy farm or agribusiness.

The message is that we are all leaders.  But is leadership important?  The answer for the first three is obvious, but what about Kris and Dave Carpenter?  Think about the difference between great success and failure for Kris and Dave as leaders of their family: a harmonious, nurturing family environment versus a hostile, destructive environment.

What about you?  Simply put: your leadership of your farm or agribusiness will determine its success or failure.  The purpose of this article is to provide insight as to how you can be a more effective leader of your farm or agribusiness by considering six roles you have as a leader of your farm of agribusiness.  This leadership may well be even more important in this very difficult time.

Think about the captain or commander of a ship.  Similarly you have a crucial role as the captain or commander of your dairy farm or agribusiness.  The ship’s captain steers a course that stays away from dangers such as shallow or turbulent waters and provides a safe and enjoyable journey; you as the dairy farm leader must steer your business in a direction that avoids being blindsided by changes in the dairy and business environment and provides a financial return to the owners and a great place to work for everyone associated with the business.  Your commander responsibilities include understanding the world around you, setting business direction (compelling vision and strategy), fashioning the culture of the business and establishing the rules the business will live by. 

The leader as conductor. Picture the conductor of a band or an orchestra.  He or she must select the right person for each position – a great drummer may be a poor trumpet player – and then orchestrate exactly when each member plays their part.  Similarly, in your conductor role you must select the right person for each position – a great feeder may be a poor milker.   You also must direct the assignment and flow of people and tasks.  It is the leader’s responsibility to see that each person is assigned the roles and tasks that best match his or her talents, skills, experience and interests.  You “orchestrate” your people to enable you business to prosper.

The leader as team builder.  Think about sports for a second.  Does the team with the most talented players always win?  The answer is “NO.”  Winning sports team must have talent AND they must work together as a team. Team success requires that the totality of the team accomplishments far exceed what the individuals could have accomplished alone.  Teams whether in sports or in business – including a dairy farm – do not succeed by accident.  You, the team leader, must instill in the team a commitment to a common end – vision, goal, outcome – and a team spirit such that they strive to meet both team and individual goals.    

The leader as supervisor and coach.  Leaders soon realize that their success depends on the people they lead.  In your role as supervisor and coach you must nurture the employee’s self motivation, be clear about performance expectations, provide abundant feedback and continually provide opportunities for the employee to develop.

The leader as motivator and cheerleader.  The leader sets the tone and nurtures morale, commitment, and motivation.  The leader is the motivator for the dairy farm or agribusiness’s workforce.  This role requires that the leader be positive, upbeat, and proactive even in this difficult time.  

The leader as promoter and spokesperson.  The leader is the face of your dairy farm or agribusiness to the outside world.  For you this includes your neighbors, member of your community and consumers of your products.  This role is becoming increasingly crucial as environmental, social and political issues become more important.

YOU are a leader!  YOU can be a better leader!  You can be a great leader!  Make plans today increase you success in each of your roles as a dairy farm or agribusiness leader.


• Robert Milligan is senior consultant, Dairy Strategies LLC, and professor emeritus, Cornell University. He can be reached at 888-249-3244, ext. 255, e-mail: rmilligan@trsmith.com.

• Milligan conducts LearningEdge webinars on business leadership and management topics. For information, including a list of complimentary webinars, visit www.dairystrategies.com.