If your dairy operation is like most, leadership is probably not a common topic of conversation at your farm meetings or around the kitchen table. It may seem that things just happen on the farm: Cows are milked, crops are harvested, decisions are made and, before we know it, another year is behind us.

Leadership happens every day on dairy farms, whether we realize it or not. It is accomplished in many ways and oftentimes by many people. Everyone involved in a farm operation has a role in leadership, from owners and managers to employees and family members. Leadership at all levels sets the stage for success on today’s dairy operations.

I recently attended a leadership training as part of my role with my off-farm job. This leadership training was unlike any other I’ve attended. It took a practical, powerful approach to helping me understand my personal leadership style instead of trying to categorize me or force me to lead in a certain way.

Prior to the training, our assignment was to read the book One Piece of Paper by Mike Figliuolo. I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical prior to reading the book and feared it might be another “fluff” training. However, I quickly found a connection to the message shared in the book.

One Piece of Paper takes a systematic approach to developing a person’s unique leadership philosophy. It asks a series of questions based on these four main aspects:

  • Leading yourself: Understanding what motivates you and what you stand for

  • Leading the thinking: Focusing on how you set direction in your organization or business

  • Leading your people: Leading a team as individuals

  • Leading a balanced life: Defining and achieving equilibrium between work and personal life

While reading the book, the reader is tasked to write leadership statements with personal meaning. In the end, it results in a single piece of paper with a series of maxims describing the reader’s individual leadership style.

You might be saying, “That’s great, but what does this have to do with dairy farming?”

While I was completing the training, I couldn’t help but think how understanding our personal leadership philosophy is applicable whether we work for a 150-person employer or on our 100-cow family dairy farm.

I found the leadership maxims I wrote not only relate to my roles as an employee and manager at my job but also my roles as a wife, mother, family member and partner in two farm businesses.

One of my personal maxims answers the question, “What guidelines do you live by?” My maxim is, “Be transparent and speak the truth.” I strongly believe in open, honest communication. We can achieve more by sharing information with others and speaking the truth rather than hoarding information to ourselves.

Ask people close to me, and you may find that while this maxim is advantageous in many situations, it may also result in my occasional blunt responses, both personally and professionally. Thankfully, my family members and co-workers have grown accustomed to my sometimes brash reactions, and I’ve learned I need to temper my responses in more professional settings.

Another example of my personal leadership maxim relates to how I drive action. My maxim is, “Be decisive. The road of life is paved with flat squirrels that couldn’t make a decision.” I once heard this saying many years ago from someone with respect to judging dairy cows.

As a 10-year-old, I oftentimes found myself wavering on how to place cows during dairy judging practice. The saying has stuck with me over the years, and I find myself reflecting on it when I am being indecisive, reminding me to trust my gut and make a decision.

In total, my one piece of paper includes 20 leadership maxims like the two examples above. It’s amazing how those 20 simple statements clearly depict my leadership style and show why I react to situations in certain ways. I find that when I encounter issues with others, oftentimes they are directly in conflict with my one of my maxims.

I believe it is important all of us take time to understand what drives us. I found this exercise to be a refreshing way to take an internal look at who I am to be a better leader to those around me.

Whether we take on a formal leadership role or not on our farms or in other organizations, all of us lead and influence others, and we cannot lead others unless we first understand ourselves.  end mark

Raechel Kilgore Sattazahn
  • Raechel Kilgore Sattazahn

  • Dairy Producer
  • Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania