Create a Winning Culture in Your Feedyard Crew

Veterinarians can play a key role in building a culture of commitment to animal health and welfare among feedyard teams. ( Brianna Chance )

I would make the bold statement that what you are about to read will be more relevant today, to your feedyard customer, than current information on BRD. Why? The answer is because the number-one problem facing our feedyards today is labor. How do we find employees, train them, keep them and get them to execute current animal health protocols?

Over 400 million dollars per year is spent on leadership training workshops and very little of this information has found its way to animal agriculture. Becoming a highly skilled leader as a feedyard veterinarian is paramount to getting feedlot crews to perform at their highest level.

I have been interested in the concept of leadership since my high school teaching days. So when I retired from my feedyard practice group, I decided to spend time looking into providing leadership workshops, geared towards the livestock Industry.

As veterinarians we are in a position to lead and coach crews towards better execution and performance over all. One advantage we have as livestock veterinarians is that we are in a different operation every day, which means we see a lot of variety in getting things done. Some of these ideas work better than others. It is also an asset we can bring to the relationship between the veterinarian and the feedyard owner or manager, which has value.

What is the difference between a leader and a manager? This might be best answered when considering Nelsons Mandela’s definition of a leader. ““A like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, where upon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being lead from behind.” Using a metaphor, the sheep dog could be considered a middle manager making the small, but needed, moves to help the process along.

A list of individuals who understood these concepts while applying different leadership skills to their positions includes Steve Jobs, Vince Lombardi, John Wooden and Dwight Eisenhower. 

Steve Jobs wore many faces, thus styles, when he led Apple toward becoming the most valuable company on earth.

Vince Lombardi inspired his players to fear losing, while never being able to truly find perfection, and “found excellence along the way.”

While leading UCLA to 10 national basketball championships (including seven in a row), coach Wooden inspired his players by benchmarking them against themselves. He also spoke about how it takes real character to repeat your efforts and performance at the highest level.

Lastly, General Dwight Eisenhower led over two million soldiers on D-Day. He also used a number of different leadership styles when negotiating with the likes of Charles De Gaulle, Winston Churchill, General Montgomery, and President Roosevelt successfully.

We often associate real leaders with adjectives like charismatic, forceful, and driven. But real leaders are also great listeners, negotiators, easily make human connections and have a strong sense of vision going forward. Jack Welch from General Electric, not only grew his company by over 20 times but he also had the vision to remove all of the business bureaucracies within his company. It is estimated that two thirds of employees do not work up to their potential because of the bureaucratic blockages placed in their path.

What about the styles of leadership? It isn’t as important to have one successful style but rather possess numerous different styles to be used under different circumstances. Half of our managers have one style and half of our managers use the wrong style when faced with a situation.

Fewer than 1% of our leaders use four or more styles. Truly effective leaders are empathetic coaches. To constructively educate a new crewmember is seen as a real investment in that person. Growth is involved, that can be channeled towards better execution.

Know your “Why!” Simon Sinek, has proposed that by knowing your why, you can progress faster selling your ideas. How many veterinarians have asked the crews they work with, why do they come to work in the morning or why have they chosen to cowboy. Knowing your Why gives you your purpose. Simple question, which company knows and projects their Why better; Apple or IBM? This concept should also be utilized when health protocols are changed, to help the crew truly understand that there is a good set of reasons why it will be better than the older options.

What actually motivates people? The psychologists would say the avoidance of pain and seeking pleasure. In the workplace, a strong sense of freedom and safety, goes a long way. Freedom to do your work without micromanagement from above, and the safety of knowing that you can speak out and be heard. Few companies do this better then Google.

Statistics show it is considerably more difficult to secure a job with Google then it is to gain acceptance to Harvard. Why?  Google has the simple clear vision of both managing and distributing information globally, and offers real freedom and safety in the work place. They seek out employees who have a strong sense of role-related logic, and give them the opportunity to express it, by providing free time during each day to work with teams on any project they see fit, that match the vision. Numerous new advancements within Google have directly come from this aspect of freedom afforded its employees.

How many veterinarians working in livestock agriculture have worked for companies where the turnover is heavy? Whose fault is that? Whose fault is it when you see consistently poor execution and performance, unhappy crews, poor communications, and examples of the Peter Principle?  I believe these are symptoms of a poorly managed and led company. Could there be a role for the consulting veterinarian to help remedy these challenges?

In summary, there is opportunity for the livestock veterinarian to help build teams that win. To help cultivate and nurture real growth and development within the crews, who have to do the work. Knowing your Why, can greatly facilitate this process. Both developing and using different leadership styles can help circumnavigate challenges and at the same, create a safe and free work place, within which to thrive.

In the next article in this series, Dr. MacGregor will address "Art of Negotiation: How team leaders can deal with difficult people and situations through techniques in problem solving.”


Begin with “Why”

John Maday

We’ve all heard that it is important to explain why employees should perform specific tasks in a particular way – why they handle cattle quietly, why they give injections in a specific spot or why they maintain specific health records.

Bob Milligan. PhD, Senior Consultant, Dairy Strategies, LLC and Professor Emeritus, Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University, says we have begun to better understand why “why” is so important. Simply put, if an employee does not understand the reasons for performing specific tasks, they do not, in fact cannot, have any emotional commitment to the task.  

Citing a book titled “Start with WHY: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” by Simon Sinek, Milligan says when leaders talk about or explain “what” the farm does, employees process what is said in the part of the brain called the neocortex. The neocortex is responsible for rational and analytical thinking and language. The “what” is understood here, but it does not drive behavior.

When leaders talk about and explain “why” they do things, their employees and customers process what is said in the limbic brain. This part of the brain is responsible for all of our feelings such as trust, loyalty and commitment. As a result, the limbic brain is responsible for human behavior. The “why” resonates in this part of the brain. Only when “why” is clearly articulated can employees experience the emotions that lead to vision and passion for the success of the business, Milligan says.

Milligan adds that managers and trainers often find it difficult to inspire passion and commitment because the limbic brain has no capacity for language. Language is controlled solely in the neocortex. “One result is that we human beings have trouble describing feelings.”

Helping employees understand “why” involves articulating a vision for the business and their roles in the business, and that vision involves goals beyond producing milk or beef, generating profits or earning a paycheck. The vision instead should create emotional connections to goals such as keeping animals healthy and comfortable, protecting the environment, ensuring food safety and building a favorable work environment.