I recently met with a politician at a Pork BBQ. He wanted to know what I thought was one of the biggest problems for the family farm. He was expecting me to complain about the low hog prices or the recent drought. He laughed when I told him “Narcissism”.
Narcissism is when a person is so self centered that they are led to believe that the world is centered on them. When it comes to farm succession, it is the biggest threat to many farm’s continued success.
Farmers and small business owners come across being narcissists honestly. For most of their lives they are the primary boss on the farm. When they tell an employee to “jump” the employee says “how high” or else they are fired. Salesmen equally are geared to fulfilling the farmer’s every whim or else they lose the client. Many farm wives become subservient to their husbands and put dinner on the table according to Dad’s schedule. The patriarch becomes king of his fiefdom.
To be honest, in order to be a successful farmer you have to have a narcissistic mindset when you are farming on your own. You have to control every aspect of your world “to your liking” in order to be successful businessman. But when your kids join the business partnership, things change.
For these men to have other people make decisions and for the farm to no longer be centered on them is a dramatic moment for some men. For men whom have their name on the side of the barn, no longer feel relevant to the day-to-day operations is a major blow to their ego. They feel sidelined and feel used. They feel violated.
What some people don’t understand is that for some men, it’s as nearly emotional of an issue as a sexual violation. These men have spent their entire lives building the business and are used to everyone catering to them. To have salesmen now cater to another decision maker is the emotional feeling one would have with adultery. You are being overstepped.
In order for farm succession to be successful, every patriarch needs to seriously consider the subject of narcissism and it’s implications.
For instance, I had one client farm whereby the son was only married 18 months and his wife’s bags were packed for a flight back to Idaho. She loved her husband but she didn’t feel welcome on her husband’s family farm and for her, life was about farming with your family. She was very concerned about harming herself and needed to leave ASAP.
The problems started one day a year earlier when the feed salesmen and a nutritionist came out to the farm to talk to the father. Sabrina had just finished doing chores and she joined the conversation. The daughter in-law had a masters in dairy nutrition and she had some good questions for the nutritionist. Soon the conversation went over the father’s head. He felt pushed out of the conversation and at that moment their relationship did a 180 degree turn. Within a minute, she went from being the ideal farmer’s daughter in law to the “witch that had to go”. Dad felt that she was soon going to be bossing him around. The father was only 59 and that wasn’t ever going to happen. He felt that “its either me or her on this farm and she has got to go”.
When the salesmen start going to the daughter in-law for decisions, instead of the father; it’s evoked raw emotion for the father in-law in a way he never expected. It was for this reason that he told his son that she needed to get an off-farm job and not come to the barn anymore. She essentially was fired without any good reason.
Now what you have to understand about Sabrina is that she lived and breathed Dairy Farming. She came from one of the largest Dairies in Idaho and she was an extremely hard worker, skilled at everything on the Dairy farm. She loved her husband, but she loved farming more. It devastated her that she couldn’t farm anymore!
Ben continued to work 15 hour days and with her having an off farm job she barely seen him. It was definitely not the marriage that she had signed up for and she felt that she was pushed out of the family. She got extremely homesick and depressed, that she realized that she had to leaver her husband’s family or else risk suicide. When I showed up, she had her bags packed and a ticket home in six hours.
The father wasn’t open to mediation. He simply wanted the daughter in law gone. He didn’t care about his son’s feelings, he simply only cared about his own insecurities and his need to be in control.
They were a wealthy family & the father felt he could easily find his son a replacement wife. Dad already had a girl at church in mind.
Ben had to choose between following his wife to Idaho or stay at home farming with his family. Ben’s father was such a narcissist and it never crossed his mind what would actually happen if his son did leave. Ben did get on the plane, buying a ticket at the airport and did go to Idaho with his wife. He left with nothing but the shirt on his back, leaving everything behind. The father was stuck with Ben’s 15 hours of chores and had to hire two men to replace Bert, but it was nothing but headaches. The cows were sold within a few months, leaving the father with no farm and no family to be the boss of. His infatuation with his own ego, left nobody the winner.
The root problem was Narcissism and the father’s insecurities with someone else on the farm that knew more about Dairy Cattle than himself. What you seen was the effect of the raw emotion causing irrational decisions to be made. Obviously firing your Daughter in Law because you feel threatened by her knowledge and uncertain about your own future of the farm, isn’t a rational behavior. Yet it happens all the time and it’s a key behavior to beware of.
When you are farming, you’ve got to ask yourself the question is this a “Family farm or a Me, Myself and I farm?” Often patriarch’s claim that it’s a family farm all of their lives, but in the end it’s up as a “ME farm”.
In order to be a successful farmer, you have to be a narcissism for the majority of your career. But in order for your farm to continue to be a success, you’ve got to put your personal ego & emotions aside, for the good of the family. The farm has to go from a mindset ME to We. It’s easy to say but hard to do. But if you don’t make the effort, then you’ll be left with nothing but a lot of cows to milk by yourself!