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Lead, follow or get out of the way

Progressive Forage Editor Lynn Jaynes Published on 27 February 2018

A farmer and a farmhand were hiking in the forest when a bull moose suddenly appeared and charged them. The farmer climbed a tree, and the farmhand ran to a nearby cave. The moose stood its ground. About every minute, the farmhand would run out of the cave only to be met by the angry moose and chased back in.

After five times of this odd behavior, the farmer yelled at the farmhand to stay in the cave. The farmhand then replied, “You don’t understand the local situation; there is a bear in the cave.”

Leadership is tough – and made tougher by lack of knowledge of the situation at hand. Yet, every day, leaders are asked to make decisions, and most of the time with only half of the information.

Lead, follow or get out of the way – I’ve said it dozens of times, half-joking but always with the sting of truth. My mother had 10 kids and was an organizer. She taught me well; I can organize the crap out of anything. The problem is: I jump to decisions sometimes too quickly, thinking I have all the information I need to make the decision.

My decision-making approach aligns with what Steve Jobs was reported to have said; something along the lines of, “If you have two possible mountains to climb and aren’t sure which one is ‘right,’ then just make the decision quickly and get up that mountain as fast as you can – because if it’s the wrong one, you’ll need to get back down quickly and up the other one.” That pretty much sums up my philosophy.

I was working with a colleague recently and asked why some things were falling through the cracks. I outlined what I saw as lack of reporting, lack of follow-through, lack of discipline – because organizing, reporting and discipline are “what I do.” What I didn’t have was the other half of the situation which, when I learned it, changed the conversation significantly.

Therein lies the problem: Is it better to make the quick decision with partial knowledge or a slower decision? It’s easier to follow a leader who is decisive, I think. But if you try to follow the slower decision-maker, you’re going to experience a lot of frustration (just warning you) because decision flow resembles gelled diesel. And while it might result in a better decision, it’ll kill you waiting to get it.

What we’re really talking about is “top-down” management versus a “bottom-up” approach. Top-down management is decisive and assumes the manager has a broader perspective and can make the best decisions. In practice, it’s “lead, follow or get out of the way.” The bottom-up approach comes from the front-line employees – the ones dealing with the frustrations of broken machinery or processes and protocols from someone removed from daily field operations.

Of managers, front-line employees often respond, “This makes no sense. What the heck were you thinking?” And few would argue there is no value in listening to and communicating with those in the tractor cab or milking parlor or calving barn.

I’m not going to throw a platitude out like, “Well, balance is the key.” Of course it’s the key. What I’m going to do is throw out some organization and assign responsibility (because, remember, that’s what I do …). So listen up.

Managers – you have a responsibility to ask for more information. That’s your job. Do it. You don’t lead decisions; you lead people. If you lack people skills, whose fault is that? Work on it. Force yourself out of the office to improve your communication. If you don’t, you’re the weak link in the chain.

Team – you have a responsibility to speak up. Don’t sit in your pickup and complain to a co-worker, don’t grudgingly comply and then do a half-hearted job. Man up. Talk to the boss. If the boss doesn’t listen, you’ve got the wrong boss. Find a better one. (And a boss who listens doesn’t necessarily agree with you, by the way, and you shouldn’t expect that. Your goal is to just speak up. That’s it. Then you have to trust the boss has more information and sees a broader perspective.)

Last, to both managers and team members: Stay out of those caves.  end mark

Lynn Jaynes
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