The only thing that is constant is change, and the only way to make sure your business is progressing is being willing to change.

Gwin emily
Former Editor / Progressive Dairy

“Management must learn to adapt and improve at the rate set by the competition – not the rate of their comfort zone,” said Danny Klinefelter, a Texas A&M professor and extension economist. “If you’re sticking in your comfort zone, you’ll be falling behind, even if you’re moving ahead.”

His presentation at the 2016 Pennsylvania Dairy Summit, held recently in State College, Pennsylvania, focused on the key attributes of successful managers. He included several inspirational quotes from famous leaders and athletes throughout history, and he supplied several real-life examples from the most successful farmers he has advised.

1. Successful managers typically follow three patterns:

a. They anticipate and adapt to the changing needs of the markets.


b. They operate more as resource managers than as producers.

Here, Klinefelter gave an example of a Texas dairy producer who was expanding from 9,000 organic milking cows to 15,000. He also had conventional cows.

“He’s not into organic because he’s ‘Mother Earth,’” Klinefelter said. “There was a business opportunity here. Milk prices for organic were considerably higher. He’s learned a lot from organic producers and a lot from conventional producers.”

Klinefelter also told of a Georgia poultry producer who saw a consumer for the unwanted product of dead chickens – alligators. He converted broiler houses to raise alligators, and he collects the dead chickens from nearby poultry operations and feeds them.

“An alligator in the wild would reach six feet in six years,” Klinefelter said. “He reaches that in 18 months if he’s fed chickens.”

c. They recognize the importance of networking and developing alliances across the value chain.

2. Successful managers are strategic thinkers.

“It’s all about anticipating, adapting to, driving and capitalizing on change,” Klinefelter said. “That’s a strategic manager.”

3. Successful managers are open to exploring new ideas and considering different points of view.

For this point, Klinefelter turned to politics, illustrating that in order to accomplish anything, liberals and conservatives need to be able to communicate with one another. This is one reason why peer advisory groups are extremely important, he said.

“Put yourself in a position where you have to have your opinion challenged and consider alternative views,” he said.

4. Successful managers are always pushing the envelope but are calculated risk takers and excellent risk managers.

“They recognize that mistakes are synonymous with growth, so long as you learn from mistakes and don’t repeat them,” Klinefelter said.

5. Successful managers are able to assess strengths and weaknesses in people, including themselves.

The successful managers that Klinefelter has worked with build on the strengths of their team and compensate for the weaknesses. They delegate, outsource and form alliances.

“Picking the right people and having them in the right positions of the business is half of the battle of being successful,” he said.

6. Successful managers operate in continuous improvement mode.

“They spend as much time analyzing what they need to stop doing or change as they do on analyzing new opportunities,” Klinefelter said.

7. Successful managers spend time thinking about “what if” scenarios and developing contingency plans.

“These [people] don’t dwell on the negative, but they consider what could go wrong – or right – and what they would do if it did,” Klinefelter said. He advised that every entry strategy in a business should also have an exit strategy.

8. Successful managers seek input and expertise from outside the business.

Sam Walton, CEO of Walmart, likely spent more time in his competitors’ stores than the CEOs of those stores themselves, Klinefelter said. He would get ideas from those competitors’ stores and analyze them before implementing those ideas into his own company.

9. Successful managers see challenges and change as opportunities.

“These people don’t see themselves as victims,” Klinefelter said. “They don’t enjoy adversity, but they recognize setbacks are part of life; they learn from them; and they move on.”

10. Successful managers see themselves as the head coach rather than the boss.

Good, or great, leadership is different than good management.

“A leader is great not because of their power but because of their ability to empower others,” Klinefelter said. “That’s what makes a great leader.”

11. Successful managers maintain balance between key performance areas and between short- and long-term goals.

The best aren’t usually top in every area, Klinefelter said. They’re consistently above average in all key performance areas and typically exceptional in at least one area.

12. Successful managers make decisions based on reason and judgment, and less on emotion.

However, Klinefelter said, these managers recognize that emotional intelligence is more important that intellectual intelligence.

He gave an example of Tiger Woods. When it came down to the final holes on the golf course, Tiger knew he could beat his opponent. More importantly, he knew that his opponents knew he could beat them. His opponents crumbled under that pressure, Klinefelter said.

13. Successful managers spend more time on monitoring and analyzing performance.

By drilling down into these metrics, these managers are treating the causes, not just the symptoms, of poor performance.

14. Successful managers are excellent problem solvers.

A good CEO can anticipate problems, accept the truth and see the big picture. They don’t give up when they’ve come upon a setback.

15. Successful managers are innovative and creative in their approach to business.

They seek ways to force themselves to think outside the box.

16. Successful managers work harder at communication.

Employees and family members need to know why we’re doing it, how we’re doing and how we can improve. If a leader can’t get the message across and motivate others to act on it, the message doesn’t matter.

17. Successful managers focus on managing margins.

How can we make decisions if we don’t know?

Klinefelter gave an example of a Texas dairy producer who managed a large operation. His pharmaceutical costs were higher than those in his peer group. He drilled down into the protocols and products of each operation and discovered he was paying $16 where the others were paying $12 from the same supplier. All it took was one call for the producer to receive the product at the same price as his peers, and the producer saved about $30,000 per year with that phone call.

18. Successful managers take pride in developing the business’s future leaders.

To drill this down further, Klinefelter said successful farm families:

  • Don’t take the interests and desires of the future generation for granted
  • Have a clear basis for successor selection
  • Develop a plan for what the current CEO will do next and what the opportunities will be for others involved in the business
  • Keep the older generation engaged but out of the leadership role; don’t let them screw things up on a part-time basis

This is a delicate balance, Klinefelter explained, as it’s important for the younger generation to step up and find what fits them, but it’s just as important not to drive out the depth of knowledge of the older generation.  PD

Danny Klinefelter is the director of The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers (TEPAP) and executive secretary for the Association of Agricultural Production Executives (AAPEX).

Emily Caldwell