Are you a good boss?

July 27, 2021 |
Contributed by Jodi Helmer
Full length portrait of two people working in field at vegetable plantation, focus on good boss planting in foreground

“As a manager, you have specialized expertise,” says McMaster’s Catherine Connelly. “But your employees see the day-to-day in ways that can make you more agile.”

You have a good rapport with your team. They mostly return season after season, and you have even started hosting an annual luncheon to reward them for their hard work. Even so, the farm doesn’t exactly do an employee satisfaction survey to tell you what your team members and employees really think of your leadership style.

So, how about a little self-evaluation?

Do you actually deserve a “World’s Best Boss” mug on your desk?

Take our quiz to find out.

Do you work with your employees to establish performance goals and regularly review their progress?

A. Yes
B. No

Clear expectations are vital to employee performance but great leaders do more than hand out job descriptions and expect employees to excel. It’s essential to establish clear goals and define a path to achieve them.

A Gallup poll of U.S. workers links the two. It finds that when an employee feels more engaged at work, they are also most likely to report that they have managers who help them set performance goals and then hold them accountable to achieve those goals.

“Working in a team, it’s important that everyone is heard and appreciated and that they feel actively engaged in shaping the future of the business,” explains Heather Watson, executive director of Farm Management Canada. “This means being transparent in what’s working, what’s not, and making sure there’s a mechanism to openly share and discuss issues and opportunities.”

When was the last time you asked your employees to review your performance?

A. It’s part of our annual review process.
B. Never

No one has complained about your management style, which must mean you’re doing a great job, right? Maybe not.

Catherine Connelly

Catherine Connelly, DeGroote School of Business

Catherine Connelly, PhD, professor and Canada Research Chair of organizational behaviour at the DeGroote School of Business, McMaster University, believes the best managers request feedback on an ongoing basis.

As a manager, you have specialized expertise and you are more experienced than your employees, but they will see different things in their day-to-day activities than you will, and hearing their perspective enables you to be more agile,” Connelly says. “If you’re open to it, the information that you will learn can be very powerful.”

Ask your employees to review your performance in a “reverse annual review” process and encourage feedback about what is working well (and what needs improvement) all year long.

When you make a mistake at work, do you tell your employees?

A. Of course. It’s a learning experience for the entire team.
B. Never. Managers should appear infallible.

Don’t be tempted to hide your mistakes.

“Every leader will make mistakes; the key is to own up to it right away,” Connelly says. “You need to explain what your intention was, how you realized that you made a mistake and explain what you will do to fix it and make sure that it won’t happen again.”

It may be embarrassing to admit that you ordered the wrong tractor part or forgot to place the seed order but ’fessing up can actually help build trust and foster a sense of accountability in the team.

“If you can [admit to your mistakes] consistently, it builds your credibility for when you strongly believe that you have not made a mistake,” adds Connelly. “But first you need a track record of being honest.”

Do you participate in continuing education classes or conferences aimed at improving your leadership skills?

A. Yes
B. No

When there are cows to milk and crops to harvest (not to mention employees to manage) it can be hard to prioritize continuing education. Making time for online classes, conferences or even certificate and degree programs can help develop your leadership skills and increase innovation while providing an example for employees who also want to build their skill sets.

“Instead of learning only from your own experience or trial and error, you can learn from research that is based on large samples of leaders in a variety of situations,” Connelly says.

Watson points to a wealth of leadership training programs aimed at farmers and farm managers, including the Canadian Total Excellence in Agri-Food Management program, National Farm Leadership Program and Agricultural Excellence Conference. The National Farm Business Management Resource Centre also created a portal at, filled with tools and learning opportunities to support business skills development for small farms.

When there is an issue on the farm, when do you address it with employees?

A. As soon as it comes up.
B. I take time to think it over.

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for communicating with employees, according to Watson.

“Everyone has different communication styles and preferences. Some people are outspoken while others are quiet and pensive. Some are directive-oriented, while others are analytical,” she says.

While good managers can have different communication styles, they do have one thing in common. That’s their willingness to tackle issues as they come up instead of weeks (or months) later.

“It’s important not to let matters fester, to nip matters in the bud, so to speak, so that everyone can focus on achieving desired outcomes and avoid becoming derailed or disengaged,” Watson says.

How often do you involve employees in farm decisions?

A. Often. Our employees might not have the final say in decision-making but we value their input and ask for it when we’re considering changes.
B. Never. The owners are the only ones who get input into what happens on the farm.

When it comes to making operational decisions, confident leaders ask for employee input — and it often pays off. Research shows that 81 per cent of workers have ideas to improve their companies but more than one-third feel that those ideas are ignored.

Watson notes that tapping into employees’ ideas and potential increases the odds of farm success.

“Probably the greatest complaint we hear is that farm managers … aren’t actively involving others in making plans and decisions for the farm when these very plans and decisions can have a substantial impact on the future of the farm and everyone’s role within it,” she says. “This is especially true when it comes to transition planning on the farm where actions and attitudes lead to assumptions that are sometimes the furthest from the truth in what’s really possible and what can be nurtured over time.”

Ask employees for their feedback on potential business decisions. Your willingness to listen to their ideas will foster a sense of respect within the team.

What do you do to reward your employees for a job well done?

A. We host an annual employee appreciation lunch, organize team-building events and award certificates for achieving milestones — and always remember to thank them for their contributions.
B. We sign their paycheques.

You don’t need to hand out gold stars to employees who show up for work on time and work diligently to accomplish tasks but providing occasional rewards for those who excel in their roles helps boost morale — and every great boss wants happy employees.

One survey found that 82 per cent of workers considered recognition an important factor in their happiness at work and 63 per cent of those who reported being “always” or “usually” recognized at work were very unlikely to search out a new job in the next six months.

“Managers are responsible for creating a work atmosphere where everyone feels appreciated, heard and are given the opportunity to thrive,” says Watson. A simple “thank you” note goes a long way toward making your employees feel great about their workplace.

Give yourself two points for each “A” answer and one point for each “B” answer.

7 TO 9 POINTS: Your leadership style needs work. You might be too focused on running the business to devote much time to invest in training and development. Consider signing up for a leadership skills seminar or incorporating a few essential practices such as annual performance reviews and goal-setting or employee rewards programs. Farmers with strong leadership skills not only have more satisfied workers, FMC’s Heather Watson says, “[they] also feel less stress in the face of risk and uncertainty, have greater confidence in making timely decisions and achieve better family and farm team harmony.”

10 TO 12 POINTS: You understand what it takes to be a good leader and have incorporated some strong practices into the farm business—but there is still work to do. Look at what’s working well (hello, team-building activities!) and ask employees for suggestions of what you can do to up your leadership game.

“Many managers get bogged down in the details of growing their business,” says McMaster prof Catherine Connelly. “Reflecting on how you recruit, train and motivate your employees is always time well spent.”

13+ POINTS: You’ve earned that “Best Boss” mug! You’ve invested the time into creating a strong company culture that prioritizes employee success and well-being. You’re willing to own up to your mistakes, listen to employee feedback, and ensure that everyone knows they are a valued member of the farm team.

Says Watson: “[Great bosses] perpetuate a solutions-based atmosphere that helps empower everyone to focus on what can be changed to maintain and sustain the path to achieving desired results, both personally and for the business.”

This article was originally published at Country Guide 

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