September 8, 2009
Dad, how would you feel taking on the role of a hired man?
Your son or daughter is ready to take over, and you’d be wise to let them
One of the tricks of great farm succession is the founder’s ability to let go of management, and ultimately ownership. There are many 60-something and 70-something farm dads on the bald prairie who just don’t know how to change from being the main manager to the hired man. I know “hired man” is not the politically correct term. I should say “employee,” but employees make a wage, and I don’t know if Dad is getting a paycheque!
When you started farming for your dad you were labour, then you gained the skill to manage, and then you took over the operation by buying shares or land or assets. Now at age 67 or 72, you are wanting to step back, and only work when you feel like it. You are again the labour component.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you make this transition: Do you take instruction well? Can you be self-motivating? Will you have a learner mindset instead of a judger mindset if your son does things differently than you would? Do you have interests outside of your role on the farm? Are you paying attention to what your wife needs now?
Benefits of this new role
Some farmers don’t have a clue how to see something from another’s perspective. They are strong-minded talented entrepreneurs who are used to calling the shots. Now maybe the time to do some thinking in the combine about what you really want your life on the farm to look like. Are there plans for travel and recreation?
Do you have your personal finances in order? Are you cherishing your marriage? Do the far away grandkids get many chances to see you?
Everyone wants to be loved and be needed. Lack of appreciation is a big stumbling block to successful farm transfers. Don’t wait another day to tell others they are appreciated.
Let the folks on your farm team know the struggles and fears you are having about being useful in your old age. If you are a “grumpy old man,” they will know by your behaviour that something isn’t right, and you are obviously not happy.
By the way, you are not old, you are “young-old” if you are still active. You really need to create fun things and purpose for the next two decades of your life.
Don’t put off having fun, as health may change, and you have the time and finances now to explore creative ventures.
Find some great causes to volunteer for. Mentor a younger farmer if you have sold your farm. Adopt grandkids who need grandparent influence in their lives. Ask your local town if they need a talented re-invented farmer to fix and maintain machinery.
Let your farming adult children make mistakes and grow the business the way they want to. You can be a source of wisdom and experience as you make sure you are perceived as helpful, and not interfering. Ask if you can partake in the family business meetings so that you feel in the loop of communication.
Ask yourself what you want your legacy to be. I hope that when I am 65, I can encourage the next generation, help do yard work, play with grandchildren, volunteer fully in my town, and enjoy some short term mission work with Mennonite Economic Development Associates ( www.meda.org <http://www.meda.org/> ), where they use economic development to alleviate poverty.
Can you be the hired man again?
Test it out. Talk about what is working and what isn’t. Teach the next generation with courtesy and respect for their talents.
I would be deeply honored to hear your story. We all need role models to look up to and encourage us to succeed in new, creative ways. Elderhood is not a highly respected role in our society, but one by one, we can change that perception.
September is going to be a hectic harvest month. All the best as you labour in love.