A leader is someone who is able to motivate others to work toward a shared goal. Leaders on dairy farms, like the CEOs of companies, are the people most able to affect the outcome of a strategic plan.

Good leadership forms the foundation of effective teams. Leading a team requires a shared vision and the trust of other team members. People who inspire trust are those whose actions are consistent with their words, have high ethical standards and respect others.

What makes a good leader?

Being a good leader is crucial to running a successful dairy team. Leaders aren’t born and it is something that you can work toward. So how do you become a good leader and what should you look for in others to know whether they will make good leader

Good leaders

challenge the process – they search for opportunities to change, grow and improve how things are done;

inspire a shared vision – they communicate their vision and persuade others to commit to it;

enable others to act – they foster collaboration, build trust and get people to work together, thereby empowering others

model the way – they act as a role model, and behave in a way that is consistent with their stated values; and

encourage the heart – they build confidence, reward individual contributions, and celebrate group achievements.

There has been a lot of study on leadership in sport, politics and business to determine the characteristics and styles of successful leaders.

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Leadership characteristics

Four characteristics that people value most in their leaders are:

integrity – they act with honesty and transparency (this is the most important leadership characteristic)

competency – they know what they are talking about

ability to look forward – they have a sense of direction, an

vision; an inspirational approach – they are enthusiastic, energetic and passionate about what they do.

On dairy farms effective leaders inspire others by giving encouragement, leading by example, listening, showing they care, and providing positive feedback. Offering support is a leadership characteristic that is not listed above but is also valued by people working on dairy farms.

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Leadership styles

There are various leadership styles and all can be successful depending on the situation. However, to be a good leader you need to know which style is appropriate for the circumstances and be able to change style.

Leading teams at different stages of development

Teams go through different developmental stages. It is important to be aware that the needs of a new team will differ from those of a more established team. For example, a new team may need a more authoritative and directional style of leadership until they become more confident in working together.

Some leadership styles are:

  • authoritative – being an authority on what needs to be done;
  • democratic – letting people have their say;
  • coaching – encouraging, supporting, developing team members;
  • pacesetting – expecting others to keep up with your pace;
  • coercive – giving orders.

There is no one leadership style that is appropriate for all situations. Effective leaders modify their style for the situation and the needs of the team. Styles that are strongly associated with negative emotions and subsequently negative financial results were pacesetting and coercive, especially when they are the only styles used.

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Your personal style of management and leadership can make a difference

People generally stay in a workplace for as long as it benefits them and feels comfortable. When it no longer does, they move on. A top-down approach is likely to have people vote with their feet. Many people who leave a job do so because they don’t like their boss.

A style that may be suited to dairy farming and sits well with a supportive approach is coaching. However, there is not one perfect style that will fit all circumstances.

Leading with communication and trust – John Dalton, Naringal, western Victoria

The Dalton’s farm at Naringal near Warrnambool in Victoria is a successful dairy business that operates on the premise of open and clear communication.

The 240-hectare farm has 500 cows, averaging about 550 kilograms of milk solids, and a three-year-old 60-unit rotary dairy. For John and Kathy Dalton, who employ three full-time staff, the reason communication is so important, is that it makes for a happier workplace.

The first thing John and Kathy do is make sure they know exactly what direction they want to take. Then the key to leadership on the farm is to communicate that clearly.

“Many issues relating to the direction of the business are talked through with the staff as early as is possible so that they have an understanding of the situation,” John said.

“If changing the feeding regime was suggested, for example, all the costs would be discussed so the staff understand the reason the decision is being made.”

Yearly reviews with formal notes are conducted, which Mr Dalton said is as much for him as they are for the staff.

He believes he is approachable and if there was a concern, staff would feel comfortable enough to come to him. “I say to them don’t save it up for a year. If an issue comes up, don’t talk to me about it straight away, think about it for a week or so and if it is still a concern come and talk to me.”

During the reviews staff are able to set their own holidays and have the opportunity to discuss the roster, which Mr Dalton said is extremely important. “I’m happy for them to have input into the roster if they can think of a new way of doing it that also works for the farm.”

Communicating business decisions that affect employees such as a reduction in hours can be difficult, but Mr Dalton said communication on his farm is such that if that was the case his employees would be aware and informed enough to see it unfolding.

Effective communication requires trust, being open with information that is relevant and talking to each other, he said. “If there isn’t good communication on a dairy farm then at the end of the day you don’t have workers who feel they belong.”

If you are thinking about how you are leading your team, consider what you are spending time on, what encouragement you are giving, what sort of role model you are setting.

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To find out what sort of leader you might be do the What kind of leader am I? quiz.

What do I do on my farm if I don’t think leadership is for me?

Seek help from advisers with experience in human resources, do some training/development, employ someone with the skills to help you, share the leadership role and tasks.

Sharing leadership

It’s good to share leadership within the team when appropriate as this will help relieve the leader’s workload while developing leadership skills among the rest of the farm team. To help people gain experience and confidence, begin with simple projects that have clear start and end points, measurable results and are of interest and benefit to the business. This can be motivating and increase job satisfaction for your staff.

As well as leadership on farms, there is also a vital need for the whole value chain of the Australian dairy industry to have good leaders. Many opportunities and risks lie ahead for the industry and the effectiveness of its leaders will play a significant role in its success. 

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