Business going badly? Look in the mirror to see why

When things go wrong, we blame the weather, labour, Eskom, government or someone else. But, sad to say, bad management is usually the problem.

Business going badly? Look in the mirror to see why
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Whenever I ask farmers how their farming is going, I invariably get an answer with a positive spin (as you’d expect from the most optimistic profession on earth!), referring to production levels during the past season, but usually there’s a negative sting in the tail.  “Crops have been good, but quality let us down,” say some. “Wool prices have been at all-time highs, but the wool clip has been down,” say others. “Milk production has been excellent, but prices are down and costs up,” say the dairy farmers.

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When I ask why quality was bad, wool production down or the milk price was low, the answer is always something along the lines of: “We had so much rain we couldn’t get in to spray”, or “Lots of disease problems this season”, or “Dumping from overseas farmers is killing our market”.

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As you climb the leadership ladder, so your rights decrease and your responsibilities increase.

Never have I heard a farmer say something like: “I made a real mess of managing our pest control this year”, or “I didn’t plan and supervise our dosing programme well enough”, or “My marketing decisions have been hopeless”. When things go wrong it’s the weather, the middleman, labour problems, Telkom, Eskom, the government or some other incompetent person or organisation that’s to blame.

Inconvenient truths

To be sure, these entities and elements do greatly affect the performance of all farm businesses but, sad to say, it’s usually management that’s the real problem. A second inconvenient truth is that, as a manager, you bear full responsibility for the performance, good or bad, of all the people who work for you. If they’re messing up, it’s most likely due to something you’re doing wrong. You selected them. You choose to have them still working for you. You’re responsible.

The strategic and technical decisions of your business will always be made by top management, but much of its success will depend on decisions and action taken lower down in the organisation. In turn, these will depend on the levels of motivation in the organisation – motivation that will flow from the policies and procedures adopted, but mostly from the leadership skills of management.

Trust and respect
In The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell concludes that great leadership is built on two interlinked foundations – trust and respect. Think about your own different levels of motivation in response to people under whom you’ve served in your life. Have you ever followed the leadership of someone you didn’t trust? Have you ever been motivated by someone who says one thing and does another, someone expecting you to behave with integrity, while not doing so themselves?

Newly appointed managers often foolishly believe the higher one rises in the organisational hierarchy, the more freedom one has to break the rules. It’s exactly the opposite. Leadership requires sacrifice. You must give up as you go up. As you climb the leadership ladder, so your rights decrease and your responsibilities increase (see diagram). Effective leaders walk the talk, set the right example, serve as a role model, and perform actions that speak louder than words.

There’s also a common tendency for people appointed into positions of authority for the first time to treat it as a licence to serve themselves. Real leaders, however, concentrate on serving others and supporting their staff. Their own interests come second. Of late we’ve witnessed so much of this destructive behaviour from corporate and political leaders, such as the self-enrichment of the bankers and officials behind the present economic crisis in Europe and the waste and self-indulgence shown by many of our own political leaders.

These people kill trust, kill respect, kill leadership, and demotivate the best employees – all of which lead to organisational failure. Fortunately, ignorant, unskilled, self-serving managers don’t usually last too long. So, if you have the misfortune to work under one of them, be patient, learn the lessons of bad management from them, and don’t make the same mistakes!

Contact Peter Hughes at [email protected]. Please state ‘Managing for profit’ in the subject line of your email.

This article was originally published in the 18 January 2013 issue of Farmer’s Weekly.