Know thyself (and your team too)

Use behavioral assessments to become a more effective executive farmer

To paraphrase Sun Tzu:  "Know thyself and you need not fear a hundred battles."  How can a 500 BC Chinese general, philosopher, and strategist help us today become better executive farmers? Because Sun Tzu realized that understanding our own behavioral strengths and weaknesses is the first step in becoming effective leaders.

Often the hardest part of managing a farm involves working with people with various personalities and attributes. These relationships can involve bankers, sons, in-laws, employees, landlords and spouses to name just a few. The stakes are high. The labor markets are tight. Family transition planning can either make aor break a farm AND a family.

Bankers and landlords can help or hinder your farm based on how well they get along with you. I haven't met a farmer in either the U.S. or Canada that didn’t include finding and retaining labor in a list of their top five concerns. Also included in that top five are concerns about communication at all levels of the operation. 

Understanding yourself and the other individual is sometimes all it takes to improve the relationships and communication.

Crucial conversations

Have you ever had a crucial conversation that didn't go very well because you "weren't on the same page”?  Have you ever been in a situation where the actions or behaviors of the other person surprised you?  Have you ever wondered why a key employee left the farm? Do you ever find it tough to communicate with certain employees or family members?

In the ‘20's William Marston (lawyer, psychologist, and, surprisingly, the creator of Wonder Woman) created one of the first behavioral assessments as a way of analyzing people's naturals strengths and corresponding weaknesses. He built the DISC profile, which I use, but there are many other assessments, including Myers-Briggs, PDP ProScan, and Gallup Strengths Finder.  Each assessment has essentially the same core components and will produce similar results.

The assessments are usually given online and take around 20 minutes to complete. The results are then compiled and a report is generated.  The reports first help you understand yourself and employees, showing you areas that where individuals naturally excel, and areas that require effort. The results of the analysis also details what motivates and demotivates you and your employees as well as preferred communication styles. This is vital to any operation because if you want to get work well with people you need to communicate in a way they will accept what you have to say.   

There are many uses for this type of analysis: 

1.     Employee Placement – Placing employees where they can best succeed by playing to their natural strengths. Some use it to help determine the right job fit for employees. 

2.     Transition Planning – Some families use it at the beginning of transition planning to better understand how other communicate and behave. One farmer in Idaho recently told me he uses the reports whenever he is going to have a crucial and important conversation. He then knows the best way to approach the topics at hand in a way that the other person will respond to, without turning the conversation into confrontation.  

3.     Team Building – These analysis can also be compiled into team reports which are then shared with the entire team to improve employee to employee relations.

4.     Know Thyself – The best use of the analysis is to look in the mirror. Fully understand your strengths and put yourself in places where they are best utilized. Also, understand that your largest strength can be your biggest weakness if it is overused. Have you ever met a great salesman who had a great product but pushed a little too hard? This is an example of someone  not understanding when to throttle back his strength. If you first take the time to analyse yourself it will be easier to understand the people around you. Often this awareness is the first step in lowering the stress and confusion that often surrounds work, communication, and family.

Who would have thought that an ancient Chinese general and a comic book creator could help the executive farmer deal with the challenges of managing a successful farm?


Tim Schaefer founded Encore Consultants to provide specialized advising and coaching to farm families and agribusiness at the crossroads of change.  With over 20 years of experience advising farmers, Tim was an early pioneer of peer advisory groups for agriculture as a way for successful farmers to gain knowledge, ideas and skills from each other in a non-competitive environment. Tim can be reached at [email protected] or www.encore-consultants.net.


The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Penton Agriculture.

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