Current Progressive Cattle digital edition

What do leaders of beef production businesses do?

Bob Milligan for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 October 2017
Leaders of beef production businesses

We all agree leadership is important. What, however, do leaders do? In this article, I address this question. My focus is on leaders like you and me.

Leaders of beef production businesses or other family/small businesses or of small organizations or groups. In my case, this involves my leadership as president of the townhome association where we live.

As leader of your beef production business, your efforts can be divided into two closely related responsibilities. The first is the organizational responsibility including the direction, governance, structures and processes for leading the business. The second, and highly related, is developing the interpersonal relationships with and among the leaders.

The organizational responsibility

The leadership of a beef production business has the responsibility for developing and refining the vision, direction, structures and culture of the business so every member has the opportunity to maximize his or her contribution to business success while continuing to develop and grow.

Essentially, every organization has a leadership group that bears this responsibility. For a beef production business, these are the owners; I refer to this group as the strategic leadership team. For a more formal business and for most organizations, a board of directors assumes this responsibility.

Let’s look quickly at the three strategic leadership team responsibilities and then focus on structure:

  • Vision – Everyone needs to know why what we are doing is important to fuel their motivation. The leadership challenge is to articulate, communicate and live the vision.

  • Strategy – The direction to fulfill the vision, the direction to success. The challenge for leaders of small businesses is to make strategy a priority. I often say one leader should make strategy his or her top priority.

  • Business culture – The way we behave as we implement our strategy to fulfill our vision. This is virgin territory for most leaders but critically important for employee productivity, engagement and job satisfaction.

Structure has two components – formal and informal. Formal structure is typically defined in the bylaws for large businesses and most organizations. Developing an effective structure is often the first challenge for leaders of beef production businesses.

Because vision, strategy and culture are seldom urgent but always important, structure including frequency of meetings, attendees, member responsibilities, etc., is almost mandatory.

Once the structure is in place, the informal structure, or perhaps more correctly the culture of the leadership team, must be established or realigned. I have found, in working with my clients and my own leadership responsibilities, the following are key:

  • Engagement and willingness to participate of every member – The informal structure or meeting culture should be such that each member feels both an obligation and a desire to openly share their ideas, concerns and feelings.

  • Responsibilities – Each member must understand their responsibilities to the team and be committed to meeting those responsibilities. When I was president of the Power Play Club, I led the board each year in identifying responsibilities for each member. Each member then took the lead in their responsibility.

  • Agenda – Someone, usually the leader, must take responsibility for preparing an agenda and communicating it before the meeting. I like the agenda to also include the objective – discuss, analyze alternatives, delegate, decide, etc. – for each agenda item.

  • Timeliness – Meeting should start on time and end at or before the ending time. Discussion should stay focused on the agenda. One way to capture off-agenda ideas that could have future value is to list them on a page titled “parking lot” and then stay on agenda.

  • One smaller item I have found to be very important is to explicitly decide when meetings should not be held as scheduled. Sometimes current activities are so urgent a meeting should be canceled or postponed. Identifying those times in advance reduces conflict.

The relationship responsibility

Excelling at the organizational responsibility is necessary for leadership success. It does not, however, guarantee success. Success requires strong, trusting relationships between the leader and the members of the team. Leaders, especially inexperienced leaders, too often think they can succeed because they are the leader; they have the authority and the power.

Leaders using formal power will only attain compliance; it will not develop willing followers. Success requires the members of the team – strategic leadership team – follow the leader because they want to rather than because they must.

Here are some keys to gaining willing followers:

  • Listening – Listening carefully to what everyone is saying and the emotions they are feeling – active listening – is perhaps the most important skill of a leader.

  • Walk your talk – One of the greatest detriments to great relationships is any action inconsistent with or even contradictory to what the leaders are saying.

  • Accept responsibility – As human beings, we tend to blame others or the situation when something goes wrong (The Fundamental Theory of Attribution). As the leader, you must overcome this tendency. Even when the problem is not of your making, you must accept responsibility in the eyes of your beef production business members and, if necessary, the public. You must also privately provide feedback to the person who was responsible for the problem.

  • Give priority to what others say – You have great power as the leader; you do not have to dominate discussion. To the contrary, you should always give priority to what others say. Recent research by Google found on great teams every team member speaks approximately equally.

  • Encourage discussion and debate – Research shows bad teams argue a lot, but it also shows great teams argue a lot. You need to create an atmosphere – a culture – where discussion and debate on issues is expected and common. With most teams, this is not easy and will take time to develop.

A final word

Great teams – strategic leadership teams, boards of directors, beef production teams, etc. – require great leadership in both the organizational and the relationship responsibilities. Being a great leader may be the most difficult challenge you ever face. The benefits, however, for you personally and for your team are incredible.  end mark

ILLUSTRATION: Illustration by Carrie Stockebrand.

Bob Milligan is also professor emeritus, Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University. Email Bob Milligan.

Bob Milligan
  • Bob Milligan

  • Senior Consultant
  • Dairy Strategies LLC
  • Email Bob Milligan