Smart Series: The four 'hats' of every farm leader

by Dean Heffta

A fast-growing investment many businesses and organizations are making is in the area of coaching employees on performance. On the farm, this can also be a valuable tool in our toolbox when it comes to developing employees.

One of the top items employees are looking for in a work environment is the opportunity for personal growth and development. That can feel a bit intimidating or disheartening if we’re thinking of it only in terms of promotions and raises – but using coaching tools can be another way to accomplish this.

Gathering the tools
As a farm leader, we wear a number of different “hats” within our business. There’s a leadership hat – leading and laying out expectations for the farm’s culture, what’s acceptable in terms of behavior, and painting the picture and vision of where the farm is heading.

There’s also a manager hat that involves tasks such as making sure the work plan is laid out for the week, logistics have been worked out, part-time help has been recruited for the busy season. This is the hat you use to tell an employee the three things that they need to get done today.

We use our trainer hat when we identify an area we’re skilled in but want to develop an employee to be able to take on more responsibility. We use this hat to teach the mechanics, knowledge and know-how so someone else can become competent from a technical standpoint to take on the responsibility.

When we put on the coaching hat, we do very little telling – it’s more about asking and discovering. The intent is to have a conversation to help the employee understand what they really want. What do they want their role on the farm to look like in the future? What do they really want? What will they do to get there?

Maybe an employee responds, “I’d love to be in charge of all the technology on the farm.” Then you can ask, “What’s attractive about that for you? What are you doing to put yourself in the position to be able to do that? What are some hurdles that could keep you from getting there that you’ll need to overcome?”

With the coaching hat, we’re asking questions not only for our own understanding but more importantly, to help the person we’re coaching be able to better understand themselves – and the things they want and don’t want – more clearly. It requires a different approach than telling them what they need to get done today.

Making the discovery
One of the reasons coaching is powerful is that we as people tend to have greater belief when we discover or conclude something for ourselves than when it’s told to us. As coaches, we use questions to help others reach their own conclusions.

To move into coaching mode, we shift our mindset toward: “How can I help them make discoveries more clearly for themselves?”

It’s important to periodically have these more open types of conversations to help employees understand what’s important to them, as well as their responsibility in achieving what they want. Using coaching tools can be a major way to help us develop the farm culture that we want.

This article was published in the most recent installment of our seasonal electronic newsletter, Smart Series. For more content like this written by the sought-after experts at Water Street Solutions, sign up for free access at