Five Leadership Lessons from the Land

Last summer we were at our farm in upstate NY and it was time to hay the fields.  We don’t have haying equipment so we allow others to hay the fields and use the hay for their animals or sell it – or whatever else one does with hay.  I sat by our house, watching others do the haying (they would be using the hay for their cows). I justified my space of observation by telling myself the hay was for them, not us, and since they would use the hay I didn’t need to see the work they were doing as a favor for us.  That lasted about 1/3 of the way through my glass of wine when I couldn’t handle the guilt anymore.  I couldn’t handle the thought of reinforcing the “city people” perception that I was certain I was deepening by sitting with my wine and watching others labor on our land. I set my glass down, changed my shoes, grabbed some gloves and set out to help with an uncertain and physically demanding task I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to help with.  I labored to keep up with the slowly moving tractor as half a dozen of us picked up hay bale after hay bale and lugged it atop the wagon.  It didn’t take long for my unexercised muscles to tire.  The tired muscles gave in to exhausted muscles that all but quit and would have were it not for my ego and the fear that quitting the haying effort would forever render me a real city girl.  I managed to stick with it, finding ways to still help but minimizing the lifts that my muscles literally would not perform.  I scurried to be one of the first atop the full wagon as we rode back to the barn.  I figured if I could be on top of the bales on top of the wagon I could surely throw the bales down to the rest of the team who would then stack the bales in the barn.  That worked.

Dark set in.  It was the weekend of the super moon and the weather was brilliant.  The sky was a perfect palette of orange and red disrupted with the allure of puffy clouds that created an artistry even the masters couldn’t replicate.  It was a spectacular evening and I was pleased with myself that I had managed to find a way to stick it out.  My unfinished wine beckoned.

Except we weren’t done.  I mean, I thought we were because it was dark and even with the light of the moon I thought it difficult, if not impossible and maybe even dangerous, to continue.  The rest of the haying team had already baled over 500 bales at another farm that day.  The thought of not finishing the haying at our place hadn’t ever crossed their mind.  The job wasn’t done and it would not be done until every last bale was safely under the roof in our barn.  The weather threatened rain the next day (hay has to be dry when it’s baled).  There was no choice, the job had to be finished.  Period.

I managed the energy for one more run and then I was done.  Muscles I hadn’t used since playing soccer in college were so fatigued I literally felt like a big rubbery mass of city girl wimpy-ness.  Despite my pride, I excused myself from the team and headed for that wine, nearly unable to walk or lift my left arm.  My husband would continue with the team and salvage whatever perception he could that we were not like all city people.  He surely did that.  And then, about 10:45 PM, the night was settled in, the moon invited rest, the hay was cut, and the bales were stacked.  The work was done.

As a leader, the lessons inherent in this farm tale are worthy, if not a bit disguised beneath the story about summer haying.  Consider that, as a leader you might:

  • Show Up.  Even if we don’t HAVE to do something, often the RIGHT thing to do is to just show up and pitch in – it will matter to your team
  • Give It A Try and Get Over Yourself.  Even if we don’t know HOW to do something, we have to be willing to try new things and tell our ego to take a back seat
  • Dig Deep.  Often we are faced with tasks we don’t think are possible to accomplish given time and resources.  While pragmatism has its place, sometimes grit is what we most need to persevere and just get ‘er done
  • Build Diversity.  Building teams with diverse skills AND diverse mindsets and attitudes is vital to successfully completing a goal
  • Remember They Are Watching.  Even if we don’t think they are, others are watching our moves, making judgments and perceiving our actions and in-actions.  Those perceptions eventually become reality.  Never forget others are watching all the time and you have control over how others perceive you by virtue of the decisions you make and the actions you take.