I find that some of the most satisfying moments for operations managers are when they successfully detect and solve a crop, animal or machinery problem before it has a negative impact on productivity. How are they able to detect problems early or even before they are a problem? First, they collect and analyze data. Second, they use their vast experience to observe what is happening with their crops and animals.
Ever increasingly, this ability to be proactive with crop and animal problem solving is the hallmark of a great operations manager. Similarly, leaders must be proactive in identifying problems before they grow to the point that they damage the farm, business or other organization. The proactive problem detection for the leader applies to vision/mission, strategy, business culture and personnel.
How is the leader able to detect problems early or even before they are a problem? Certainly the data collection and analysis and observation are still critical; however, a third tool is available for vision/mission, strategy, business culture and personnel problem detection. This third tool is even more powerful, but also more problematic, because it stems from the three unique attributes of people — that we can think, we can speak and we can feel.
A leader’s followers are their greatest source of “early warning signals.” They are the ones that are most likely to first observe and feel potential problems, especially related to engagement in the vision/mission, changes in business culture or personnel issues such as a decrease in workforce motivation.
The challenge for the leader is to create an atmosphere where people are willing to share these “early warning signals.” No one wants to be the bearer of bad news. The more power possessed by the person receiving the news (the leader), the greater the barrier to delivering the bad news. It is very easy for a person in power to “punish” the bearer of the bad news. We often call this “shooting the messenger.”
Recently, we have seen a high-profile example of fear of “shooting the messenger.” It seems almost inconceivable that President Obama was not aware of the looming issues with the Obamacare website. It is my understanding, however, that many experts believe that was the case, even though nearly everyone around him knew. No one was willing to share the bad news with the President for fear he would “shoot the messenger.”
You as a farm owner have less power than the President of the United States. You do, however, have the most power of anyone on your farm or business, and thus you have the greatest potential to not receive valuable early warning messages for fear by the bearer that you will “shoot the messenger.”