Reaping Lessons from the Farm

Photo by Mark Baker

Photo by Mark Baker

I often hear colleagues express frustration with their work life. Too many meetings. Lack of clarity on problems (and solutions). Limited resources. Being too busy. I, too, feel the strain at the end of the day or week.

On occasion, I think back to my childhood and the time spent with my father and grandfather discussing their farming heritage, working on various farms, or even working in the garden. It seems like that was such a simpler, basic and natural lifestyle. There was always plenty of work to be done. The chores could be endless, fluctuated a lot and weren’t always predictable (weather, animals, equipment breakdowns, etc.). It was hard and didn’t always deliver the anticiapted financial reward. However, there was a natural rhythm to farming, and a spirit of perseverance and hopefulness.

Upon further reflection, I can see parallels between farming and leadership that weren’t initially obvious:

  • There is a natural system at play with a variety of inputs, some of which we control and some that we don’t.
  • There are certain basic conditions that need to be present.
  • The timeframe is not one of immediate cause and effect.
  • The outcome isn’t always as expected or desired.
  • Quick fixes aren’t necessarily possible or effective.
  • Rewards are likely less tangible and longer term than what meets the eye.

Let’s break it down to see the lessons we can take from farming.




There is a lot of preparation.

Soil, equipment and facilities all need to be maintained.

What skills, education and resources are required? Do they fit the need?

Some things you can control, some you cannot.

Seed, timing, weather and luck all play a role in a successful crop.

Be clear on what you can influence and not. What do others see as necessary that you do not?

Learning comes from success and failure.

Observing and monitoring and keeping track of what is occurring along the way informs any changes for the next year. Ripping out the crop and starting over isn’t really a practical option.

Anything halfway done probably looks like a failure. Knee-jerk reactions akin to ripping out the crop mid-season aren’t likely to be successful. Be observant of the conditions for success. Do more of that, and less of what isn’t successful.

You can’t do everything.

A farmer carefully chooses what crops, how much land, how much investment is made and is sustainable.

Be disciplined in what you chose to do or introduce to your organization. What really matters?

Things inevitably will go wrong.

Things will break and won’t always turn out as expected. Have faith, learn and improve for the next time.

Understand what might go wrong in the big picture. What are practical contingencies?

Success may mean more than profits.

The majority of farmers aren’t rich, yet are successful, happy and are the cornerstones of community.

Over time, what does success really mean? Defaulting to money is likely not the dominant answer.

These well-know farming sayings are also applicable to business and leadership:

“Look before you leap for as you sow, ye are like to reap.” —Samuel Butler

“One generation plants the trees in whose shade another generation rests.” —Chinese proverb

One Comment on “Reaping Lessons from the Farm”

  1. says:

    We found the comparisons interesting and educational as to how so many lessons in life are related to one another. D&D

    Just for you, from Donna


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