Bridging The Generational Gap In Agriculture

Think Shift

F Fail to succession plan, fail to succeed. The same on-farm experience with generational shift is happening in the agribusiness sector, with a subtle twist.

On-farm succession planning has always been a hot topic that undoubtably weighs heavy on the minds of every grower whether they represent the older generations trying to figure out how to make a graceful, gradual exit or the younger ones looking to make their mark. However, while this is also true of the ag-service sector – alarmingly, there has not been any alarm.

As the Ag industry remains dominated by the Boomers, older generations serving older generations, the primary decision-makers on both the sides of the equation (farmers and agribusinesses) are more than likely to be 50+ years of age. What people often overlook is that Gen X, Y and Z will be the next leaders and many organizations aren’t preparing them for the role.

Leaders in ag focused companies are staying in their roles longer and seem reluctant to share leadership responsibilities. Additionally, they don’t move around as much and tend to stay in their roles for 20-30 years, often through transfers in ownership, mergers and acquisitions.

As a result, younger generations are acting in lower levels of authority and provided with significantly less influence, ultimately leaving them inexperienced and unprepared for the eventual burdens of leadership. This problem is compounded by the fact that there are more Boomers on their way out than there are younger generations coming in. And there are other factors at play as well.

Fundamentally, there is a perceived stigma around the transfer of power or decision making. Current leaders may feel like they are losing authority or influence if they delegate organizational decision making. After working so hard to establish themselves, advance their leadership role and take on more responsibilities, many leaders fear that this will be seen as a sign of weakness, feel less important or worse yet - have the decision to share their leadership responsibilities regarded as their “declining years”.

The flaw in this thinking, is that it fails to consider their chief responsibility of ensuring the sustainability and future growth of the farm or company. That if it is truly about succession planning and preserving both personal and organizational legacy, then we must capitalize on opportunities to prepare the next generation of leaders.

On-farm or off-farm and whether we like it or not, there is going to be a monumental passing of the torch (leadership-wise) over the next five to ten years and no matter which side of the proverbial coin you represent - how smoothly it goes, will be entirely up to you.

So where do we go from here?

The message to current organizational leaders: Whether you’re in the office or on the farm, sharing leadership responsibilities is the next chapter of your career growth and the continued success of your company. Younger generations will need support and engagement as they move up the ranks of the organization and it is your job to help them. Listen to their thoughts. Look for opportunities where they can help make decisions and lead. Enable them to serve their generation as you have served yours by allowing them to implement their ideas with the audience they know best. Encourage their leadership styles and their unique way of interacting with brands. Sharing your leadership responsibilities will not only help you to function at a much higher level, it will also increase your organizational influence as your understudies draw on your counsel and expertise.

The message to new and developing leaders: Be patient, leadership can often look more attractive from a distance. Look for opportunities to get actively involved in areas where you feel like you can offer your particular expertise or unique insights. Demonstrate a willingness to learn from your organizational leaders and don’t be afraid to ask for their advice. The initiative to lead is best shown by starting small and gradually working your way up. 

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