Improving your leadership skills could be key in transforming your business. Farmers Guardian takes a closer look at the latest initiative being delivered by Myerscough College, Lancashire, and two people who have benefited.
Throughout history there has been debate about whether a good leader is born or made. The answer is probably a bit of both, with some guidance thrown into the mix.
The most effective leaders are inspiring, strategic, energetic and possess a clarity of vision which can effect great change.
Agriculture plays its role politically, economically, environmentally and socially and there is a strong argument in the need for developing strong leaders within farming and why the representation of farming is fundamental to our future.
This doesn’t just apply at an international and national level, but also to everyday management on farm.
Earlier this year, Myerscough College launched its Young Farmers Leadership Academy (YFLA) to encourage training in the area.
Designed by farmers and agricultural lecturers, its aim is to offer skills development to the next generation of young, aspiring leaders.
The course is funded by the Prince’s Countryside Fund and consists of six, two-day workshops which culminate in October.
Mr Thompson says: “Leadership skills are not ‘taught’ like academic subjects– they tend to be soft skills which are developed through a range of techniques including coaching, inspiration, networking, communication of shared experiences, collaboration and self-reflection.
“We aim to develop future farming leaders and give them the skills to make effective decisions, lead staff, develop efficient and productive businesses and have a positive influence on the industry – all crucial attributes in driving forward British agriculture,” Mr Thompson adds.
“The current Defra consultation on the future of farming reinforces the need for increased productivity and resilience within the sector and this course will help equip young, forward-thinking farmers and farming managers with the skills needed to lead their businesses through the changing times ahead.”
Tom Walbank, 30, joined the YFLA to form the stepping stones to help expand the family’s business.
Heading up 16 full-time staff and about four or five regular sub-contractors – mainly for tree surgery work – Tom’s hope to progress his role to the firm’s managing director was prompted by its rapid growth.
“I heard about the course because my father is part of the Lothersdale discussion group and it was mentioned there,” he says. “I am currently a director of the business, with a view of being the managing director in the next year or so.
“With us being a family firm – and the only company I have worked for – I thought it would be beneficial to get some ideas of how I can develop the business, as well as taking a step back and assessing it froman outsider’s point of view.
“On a day-to-day basis we are working at 100 miles per hour trying to get stuff done.”
The family run a mixed farm in Cross Roads, Keighley, Yorkshire, alongside a partridge and grouse shoot on the Oxenhope and Haworth Moors. It predominantly operates as a tree surgery business.
Since joining the YFLA, Tom says he has learned how to look at lean management from a niche perspective and apply it to his day-to-day role through his growing leadership skills.
Having worked in the business since the age of 16, his experience of different business models was restricted, but the course has helped with hints and tips on how to up his game going forward, as well as how to better deal with employees.
Tom says: “Is your business leaking money somewhere? If so, why, and what can be changed? Can you spend a bit more on a piece of machinery or personnel which will pay dividends in the long run?
“It is good to step back sometimes. I may have been doing something wrong – or not thought of something significant – which the course has helped put into perspective.”
What surprised Tom the most was the openness of other business leaders on sharing their steps to success, something he is keen to make the most of.
The contributors have helped Tom determine the kind of manager he is, with tips on how to assess his strengths and weaknesses.
And having to deal with quotes, organising employees and visiting clients through his role as contract manager, he says the day-to-day runnings of the job are now clearer.
“The speakers have been very honest about their businesses,” Tom says.
“Things that have helped them develop, things they wish they had done differently and where they want to be in five years’ time.
“The YFLA has helped me not be afraid to ask questions to anyone about business and development. The phrase ‘if you do not ask you do not get’ could not be more true.”
For someone who has never had any leadership training before, Beverley Fort wanted to gain new ideas to boost her website content.
“Farm visits, to other see how other farmers operate are a great help, she says. “I also wanted to learn tips about digital media and meet other like-minded people.”
At home, on 170-hectare (420-acre) grassland, she farms 1,100 high quality pedigree Lleyn breeding ewe lambs which are currently lambing at 200 per cent.
“I sell some of the ewe lambs and keep about 700 gimmers to sell as shearlings the following year,” she says.
“The rams go as fat straight off the grass, except for the very best 60 which are reared and sold from home or society sales as shearlings for breeding purposes.”
The sales often bring in a top price for Beverley and she is keen at breeding and training Border Collies in her spare time.
Being a YFLA candidate is inspiring Beverley, 34, with business ideas and prompting her to be more confident in the workplace.
“So far the course has taught me how to be more confident and stay focused,” she says. “It has also helped encourage me to take the plunge with any new ideas I have.
“And, importantly, I have made new friends in the agricultural industry.”