When farm kids are teenagers, when dad says jump you had better say how high or else you’ll get a backhand. During this time if he has employees, they do as they are told or else they're fired. Salesmen cater to Dad’s every whim. It's a situation where the father is the ultimate boss and after a while it goes to his head. He is the boss!
It's a lot like downhill racing and you are a skier. It's just you and the hill. You guide how your body moves, right, left, backward, so you can curl and tuck and get down the hill the fastest. You’re Boss.
Farming with your family at a different stage of life is like changing sports. Different game, different rules! Most patriarchs don’t understand the rules of the new game and often haven’t realized they changed sports.
How you interact with your kids when they are teenagers as parents should be different than when they are mature & business partners.
When I first played “Aussie Rules” football; I didn’t get the concept of the sport and my first game was brutal. I was continually off-side and unexpectedly got hit several times. As a mediator, I see a lot of farm patriarchs with kids in their 20’s whom feel emotionally bruised like I physically was. They simply need someone to teach them the rules of the game and then coach them into being a good team player.
One of the bigger problems I see is that often parents are trying to be the player, coach, referee and team captain at the same time.
They think they know the rules to the game, but really it’s a completely new game to them. Having a business coach and a referee (facilitator) come in during the first five years of a business partnership will help teach your team a new sport.
Family Before Ego
Peter was a classic Dutchmen whom came over from Holland with very little and over his lifetime built an empire that anyone would be proud of.
Before I showed up to their farm, they had already had 6 succession experts on their farm previously and the regional head of Farm Credit used them as an example of a dysfunctional farm family. The day I showed up to advise the family was the first day the one son came back from Rehab with a drinking problem. The next step was for the three boys to split the assets and go their separate ways. I was their last hope.
Peter was a man that all of his sons respected deeply and he is a great guy. But he ruled the farm with an iron fist and this caused the farm to be a “gong show” of problems, emotions and drama. It was Peter’s farm, not the boys farm and it would always be that way. It created much frustration.
I started to meet with the family on a monthly basis to chair family business meetings. For Peter, it was a major deal to give up being an autocrat to having meetings whereby decisions were made by all of the family members collectively. Especially when an outsider was chairing it.
But Peter went along with it and over the course of a few months he started to feel less threatened by the process. He went from being the boss to one of the teammates while still at the same time being Team Captain.
Peter still maintained his Vito power but over the months he has exercised this right less and less. What is most remarkable is that his language has changed from using the term “My Farm” to “Our Farm”. As a result of this change in attitude, his boys attitudes have changed tremendously. They feel a renewed sense of ownership and everyone is 100% committed.
Instead of splitting the farm, they are adding a rotary parlor with a $2,000,000 barn expansion. The boys have decided to stay together.
Peter put his boys needs before his own egotistical needs. As a result his dream of the family together forever will be realized. It’s a huge change!
This took courage and humility. He deserves the father of the year award.