Leadership on Your Dairy in These Times

Bob Milligan, Learning Edge

Bob Milligan

Here are some issues that have come to the forefront in these times. But the three keys to navigating this crisis remain:

  • Leadership
  • Planning
  • Communication and Collaboration

Leadership Roles

As a leader of your farm business, you have two key leadership roles:

  1. Leading yourself and your workforce in these unprecedented times
  2. Positioning your farm business to survive/thrive in this crazy environment. In this article, we focus on the second.



The key is the communication/collaboration key. Have you noticed that our leaders – The President and Governors – who traditionally held solo news conferences are now sharing the podium with their experts? Why? First as we have previously mentioned in the previous issue, we are all decision-making challenged when in loss/grief. Second, and perhaps more important, we are in true – perhaps unprecedented – uncertainty where no one has the answers. Input from others and collaborative discussion are valuable, more likely necessary. You and your business are no different.

Three suggestions:

  1. Meet frequently – more frequently –  with your key people – owners, family members, key managers – to ensure you are capitalizing on economic support options, minimizing short-term losses, and seeking longer term opportunities. You can also use this time for reassurance and daily operations planning.
  2. Seek the advice and council of others including your agribusiness professionals/advisors, colleagues, and friends.  I am very available as we are truly isolating.
  3. It is hard to effectively collaborate on the phone or by text and now in person due to social distancing. I encourage you to avail yourself of a web conferencing program so you can review drafts, share financials and list brainstorming ideas. GoToMeeting has a 14 day free trial Click Here. Zoom has a basic plan that is free Click Here.

A final leadership comment is that a proven key to leading in a crisis is to lean on your vision, mission, values, and farm business culture.

The Circles of Concern and Influence

Look at the diagram below. The complete circle, labeled “Circle of Concern” (including both the yellow and red areas) comprises everything that you as a leader and manager are concerned about. The middle red circle, labeled “The Circle of Influence,” includes a subset of the Circle of Concern. This subset includes everything you can impact, the things you have at least some influence or control over.


The outer yellow ring includes everything that is of concern but that cannot be influenced or impacted. Examples include weather, economic conditions, agricultural trends, and the local labor market. You must recognize that you cannot change anything in this outer ring, at least in the short run, and thus you must focus elsewhere.



I am certain you are saying, “That’s easy to say, but hard to do.” I agree. It is, however, an important key to you and your workforce focusing on what creates success for your farm or other business.

The inner red circle, the “Circle of Influence,” contain everything that both concerns you and that you can influence. It is where you must focus. For a farm, the “Circle of Influence” includes everything you influence/control day-to-day and everything you influence/control in your farm business strategy.

Planning and Scenario Planning

We all develop plans – complete actions steps to be taken for a certain or likely event or situation. Every business also faces opportunities and threats that are not likely to occur but with major consequences should they occur. For those, scenario planning is a useful tool to for preparation. Scenario plans are less detailed but provide a place to start should that threat or an opportunity occur. An example format for a scenario plan is in the section below. Email me to receive a Word copy of the format.

Whether you need a detailed plan or a scenario plan will depend on your situations. In our current situation, I encourage you to have whichever is appropriate for all or most of the following. You will need to use the additional leadership team time mentioned above on these plans.

  • A workforce member or family member has or may have COVID-19
  • A large enough proportion of your workforce has COVID-19 or is isolating that farm operations cannot be sustained.
  • An owner or key employee becomes incapacitated for a period of time or dies from COVID-19 or anything else – business succession
  • Your farm business uses all its working capital.
  • A capital purchase opportunity – land, buildings, livestock — avails itself with a very short deadline
  • A lender threatens to foreclose on some or all your assets.

Training and Cross-training

It is possible, if not likely, that you will have a key operator unavailable during this planting season. You will then need a current or new employee to step in. Training and cross-training current and short-term or long-term new employees is critically important.

I encourage you to consider using the time-honored training process: prepare – tell – show – do – review. A checklist for training an equipment operator based on this process is contained in the last section of this newsletter. Email me (rmilligan@tramith.com) to get the Excel spreadsheet.

Full Steam Ahead and Stay Well

Editor’s note: Bob Milligan of Learning Edge is a longtime farm management and leadership consultant. He may be contacted at rmilligan@trsmith.com at 651.647.0495. This article appears in his April newsletter and is used here with permission.

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