This rare character trait alone will not guarantee success, but it is usually part of the package in all successful businesses, families or relationships. You may think that I am talking about people skills, but there is a big difference between having people skills and having a heart for people.

I would compare it to managing people versus leading people. When we manage something, we use whatever resources possible to make it the most productive. We manage our businesses, machinery and equipment, crops, feed and finances to get the best performance and the highest returns on our investments.

Unfortunately, people also get thrown into this management task. Ask people who are responsible for leading other people in what they do, and you will hear things like “parlor team manager” or “human resource manager.” It is very important to be aware of our thinking regarding people because what we “think” about people will have a profound effect on how we treat them. I would say this discussion about people is much deeper and falls into another important category called a “heart thing.” People who are “managing” people draw from their knowledge in their heads or from their “people skills,” while those who truly lead people are being driven by their hearts.

We have a total of 14 employees at our farm, 11 full-time and three part-time. We quite often get asked the question, “Who is responsible for managing the employees – or the people?” It is an easy question for us to answer, but usually not so easy for the other person to understand. “We do not have anyone who is responsible for managing people on our farm,” is the typical answer. Sometimes that prompts a follow-up question like, “Do have a lot of turmoil and chaos on your farm?” or “Do you have a lot of turnover at your farm?” or “Do you not value your employees very much?”

But we do care about our employees; we deeply care about all people and fully recognize that they are what is most valuable on this planet. People are not like our land, equipment, machinery or cattle. They are incredibly valuable; however, they are not like things that can, or should, be managed. People have hearts, souls and minds that can masterfully think, problem solve and create. If we allow workplaces – and people management systems – that are only focused on maximizing the productivity of these people assets, we can unknowingly reduce or eliminate much of that “extra stuff” that people can bring to our businesses, families or lives.


Usually about this time, questions will shift to things like, “How can we become more of a leader of people versus a manager of people?” It all begins in our own hearts, souls and minds. It will require us to look deep into our own hearts and discover how we truly feel about people. You have probably heard that out of the mouth the heart speaks, and a few strategic questions will usually reveal a person’s heart for people. It may require some new thinking, or a paradigm shift, to overcome some of the training we have received about “managing” people.

It may change our employee or people training programs. We all have employee training to meet safety requirements and make sure that nobody gets hurt on our farms. We may have regular training to improve our employees’ job skills or to help them understand how to do their jobs better to be more productive or efficient. But what about investing in them as an individual? Give them training or tools to help them grow as a person. Help them learn to believe in themselves and others. Maybe give them the opportunity to improve communication skills, relationship training, financial planning or other potentially simple life lessons that they never had the opportunity to learn. We just went through thankfulness training with all our people. It may sound simple or even silly to some experienced people managers, but the benefits of thankfulness are many, and few have been trained to benefit from them.

An investment in people to improve themselves, their families, finances or other things outside of work are not typically talked about in people skills training today. If you want more of a heart for people, it can happen. If you want to make more of an investment into the “people” in your life, whether they are employees, family, inner circle or community, it can also happen. If you have a heart for people, but not the skills to invest into them, don’t worry; they can be learned or hired. If you deeply love your child and they need an appendix removed, you will not think twice about hiring someone with that skill to help your child. You can hire someone to help deliver your heart to your people, but you can’t hire someone to be the heart for your people.  end mark

Hank Wagner is a dairy farmer in Oconto Falls, Wisconsin.

PHOTO: Getty Images.