Take the Lead in Tough Conversations

What should you do if your business has unfinished business when it comes to people? ( AgWeb )

“Awkward!” That’s how my niece describes any uncomfortable situation or conversation. Here’s another common phrase: It’s not personal; it’s business. But with family businesses such as farming, the two are often difficult to separate. 

Maybe a more complete way to put it is: “This is awkward because it is personal; this is a family business.” 

For many families, some of the most avoided conversations are about how to transition from one generation of leadership to the next. This is partly due to unclarified assumptions such as: “I guess I’ll take over when Dad retires.” Or, “I assume if my son wanted to learn more about that from me, he’d ask.” 

Risk of Extinction

This lack of planning is not sustainable. While most farmers facing retirement want to see their operations continue, many say they don’t believe their next generation is
prepared to take over. Even if you’ve created a succession plan, if you do not intentionally culti-vate future leaders, your operation risks extinction. 

We are an industry in transition. In the next 10 years, up to 370 million acres of agricultural lands will change hands. USDA estimates 500,000 farmers will retire or be out of the business between now and 2030. Those timelines are short, and the future is now. 

What should you do if your business has unfinished business when it comes to people? First, realize everyone can be a leader. Even if you’re the younger generation, it doesn’t mean you should wait for someone else to initiate discussions. 

On a recent executive coaching call, I explained the concept of managing up to a young leader concerned about his future role. Managing up can be defined as understanding and helping your senior leader successfully do their job. It also means assessing the situation and actively crafting solutions, even while the final decision-maker has more experience, seniority or your genes.  


  1. Be helpful. Take the lead on getting tasks in order. List what you think needs to be discussed and the questions you have.
  2. Write it down. Present topics that need to be discussed on paper first. Consider creating an agenda for the discussion.
  3. Be persistent. Don’t give up if your first efforts don’t yield results or aren't finalized immediately. 

Every family business has disagreements that require challenging conversations to resolve. Learn to talk to the right people at the right time at AgWeb.com/conversation-tips

Sarah Beth Aubrey’s mission is to enhance success and profitability in agriculture by building capacity in people. She provides executive coaching as well as peer group and board facilitation.