Emotions to the rescue Disagreements don’t have to morph into conflicts. Instead, use these six leadership strategies to put the harmony back in your family farm By Maggie Van Camp, CG Associate Editor Inevitably, when farms expand to include multiple family members, family dynamics change.
becomes more difficult, and the business of farming creeps into more and more personal lives.
Before we talk about the stresses and strains that
“Learning to disagree without fighting is the
this can produce, we shouldn’t lose sight of the
secret to family farming success,” says Ron Hanson,
fundamental positives that this change brings to
professor of agri-business at the University of
Nebraska-Lincoln. “That requires respect and trust
With more people involved and passionate about
between each and every family member.”
the farm’s success, there are more chances to
No matter who you’re dealing with — family
come up with more creative solutions. Plus, it’s a
or not — learning to disagree amicably and work
good thing when everyone has to justify their posi-
through problems is an invaluable skill.
tions outside of their own heads. On the negative side, however, communication
1. Meet regularly “If there is stress and conflict in your family, it will almost inevitably trace its roots back to a lack of effective communication at some point in the family system,” says Richard Cressman. Cressman, a six-foot tall former dairy farmer from New Hamburg, Ont. isn’t the sort of person you’d expect to be talking about feelings and emotions. Yet in his no-nonsense way, he does just that, helping farm families sort out things like blame, hurt, guilt, stress and fear when those emotions have festered into conflicts. Cressman is motivated to help farm families through conflicts because he lived it. In 1990 he and his brother terminated their 14-year farming partnership and it wasn’t due to financial problems. “I’ve experienced first hand the spats, the squabbles, the yelling, the anger, the resentment, and the hurt feelings that frequently break up successful farming businesses,” he says. Over the next decade, Cressman learned how to manage emotions in a family business and did his MBA thesis on farm succession. His relationship with his brother healed and now they run a seed dealership together, along with his nephews. Over the last 11 years, he’s coached countless farm families to deal with the emotional part of the business. Cressman often finds the traditional two-way communication structure of Mom and Dad talking between themselves is simply overwhelmed when 48 country-guide.ca
Here are six strategies to stop disagreements from turning into fights.
more people are added to the mix. If that communication infrastructure no longer works, it’s time to have group meetings, he says. It’s just like buying more equipment or trading up to increase capacity after acquiring more land. You have to increase your capacity to communicate. “The more people you have involved in the business, the more frequently meetings need to be held,” says Cressman. The reality is that you’re not going to agree all the time and it’s important that you don’t all think alike. By meeting regularly everybody knows what’s going on in other parts of the farm. Plus, the meetings give us experience in coming to agreement on smaller, easier everyday decisions before the big ones come up. “Cultivate an attitude that your meetings are an integral part of the future success of the business,” Cressman advises. In his consulting, Cressman has seen all sorts of meetings work, as long as everyone agrees on the ground rules. Basically, guidelines should include frequency of meetings, who attends and who has input into decision making. Sometimes agendas are used but for families who meet at least once a week, formal written ones are usually not needed. Clear guidelines for behaviour in meetings are key. If someone leaves a meeting angry, they’re still expected to come to the next meeting and be willing to participate. Also, don’t solicit support from February 1, 2012
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