Need a Lesson in Management? Take it Back to the Farm

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Posted: October 29, 2009
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Lessons about business can be learned everywhere, if you're willing to keep your eyes and ears open to the possibilities.

It struck me on a trip home to Iowa that the earliest principles of leadership and management were taught to me by my mother and father. Their official titles were farmer and farmer's wife, with no academic letters following their names.

These principles of management were not taught in meetings or with great rhetoric. The lessons were learned by observing their day-to-day actions in running a growing farm operation.

Management lesson No. 1: Manage results, not excuses
Anyone vaguely familiar with farming knows the desired outcome is to plant and reap a bountiful crop. That job can be fraught with problems, usually caused by Mother Nature. Planting can be delayed by excessive rain, crops replanted because of hail and harvest impeded because of snow.

All of the above are potential good excuses to give up and say, "Well, we just couldn't get the job done this year." I don't recall ever hearing those words.

Instead, what I saw was a determination and perseverance that the job had to be done, despite any complications handed to my parents. They could not, would not, accept excuses. The outcome was too important to achieve (feeding and clothing eight kids).

If there was a delay in planting crops, they would work literally day and night to make up for lost time. My parents understood this was a part of being in the business of farming, and the result was the only thing that mattered or would be measured.

As sales professionals, we face similar challenges in achieving the outcome, our sales goal. The challenges may be handling operation issues or customer complaints. These challenges are potential good excuses for not implementing a consistent sales and marketing plan.

Sales managers may be tempted to buy those excuses and start managing excuses instead of results, which produces a less-than-bountiful harvest. The true sales professional knows challenges come with the territory. The winner is the salesperson who works through and around roadblocks to achieve success because they know only one thing matters -- the result.

Management lesson No. 2: No-option behavior
Chores are a part of everyday life growing up on a farm. Depending on your age, the chores changed, but the expectation of getting them done didn't.

Saturday morning cleaning was a ritual at our home and no play was allowed until the cleaning was done. Tantrums, faked illness or comparisons to kids who didn't have chores did nothing to deter my mother from having us complete our mission: cleaning the house.

I now realize what a gift that was to me. The lesson being taught was as a member of this family, you have responsibility. Entitlement was not in my parents' vocabulary. As part of that responsibility, you have a job to do. You may not like the job, but you will do the job. Today I call it "no-option behavior."

Great sales managers teach the no-option behavior principle to their sales team. They understand there are certain things in each of our job roles that we don't like to do. Salespeople may not like cold calling. Nontraditional salespeople, such as attorneys and CPAs, often don't like networking.

Guess what? It doesn't matter. Because if you're going to thrive in today's competitive business environment, you better engage in no-option behavior. You don't have to like it, you just have to do it. It's a chore that needs to be done before you get to play and collect pay.

Management lesson No. 3: Actions speak louder than words
Most people have heard of detassling corn in Iowa. However, most people haven't heard of an equally fun job called "bean walking."

Bean walking (now defunct) was the hot job of walking up and down bean rows, hoeing out weeds to produce a greater yield at harvest.

One evening, after a full day of bean walking, my father loaded all my siblings in the car and drove to the field we had just completed walking. He was inspecting our work. One of my brothers was rather sloppy in his work that day, leaving tall weeds in his assigned rows. My father asked my brother to re-walk his rows.

My father didn't deliver a huge lecture on right and wrong. He didn't rant and rave about the sloppy work. His actions spoke louder than any words. His actions told us that if the job wasn't done right, it would be done again and again until it was right.

"Your actions speak so loudly, I can't hear you."

Do your actions as a sales manager match your words? New sales recruits are a great example. Do your words say, "We invest in our people," but your actions reflect little time in working with and training the new salesperson? Are there policies and procedures in place but exceptions made for certain sales representatives and/or customers? Do we talk about excellence but settle for mediocrity because achieving excellence takes perseverance and patience?

The great sales managers I know don't give loud and long speeches. They implement, and let their actions and results do the talking.

I think I'll drop Mom and Dad a note telling them thanks for all the management and leadership training. Best schooling I ever had.