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Cultivating Excellence: Unleashing talent for high performance  

By Julia Jones

Success in farming, just like in any team sport, depends on working well together. It’s not enough to just have good people; you need to help them be at their best.  A high-performing team is the difference between a good business and a great one. One wish I have for farming businesses is to take a good, hard look at how we lead and always keep learning so we can do it better. No matter how skilled you think you are, there’s always room to grow and improve.

Chris Parsons is a notable example of how being humble and a good leader can make a significant difference. He started out as a farm boy, moving through leadership in the military, and we are lucky to now have him leading in New Zealand’s Food and Fibers sector. At the upcoming People Expo events, hosted by the Dairy Women’s Network and DairyNZ, Chris is going to share his knowledge and experience in building strong teams. Learning from Chris is an invaluable opportunity, even for  seasoned campaigners in the sector. I can personally attest that time spent gaining insights from him is time exceptionally well spent.

In farming, we have usually focused on getting tasks done, but as farming gets more complicated, this isn’t enough anymore. The real solution is having leaders who help people grow their skills and make a team that can quickly adapt and manage tough situations. While we should respect and value what past farmers have done, we need new ways to do things for the future. The real antidote to complexity lies in leadership that unleashes potential, fostering an agile and resilient workforce.

For Chris, leadership is more than a role; it is the essence of his existence, a quality nurtured from an early age by his father on the farm. His dad encouraged Chris and his brothers to make decisions about the farm. A process that was less about reward or punishment and more about exploration, growth, the foundation of true leadership.

Chris’ leadership approach, profoundly shaped by his military experience, is universally applicable. He underscores the importance of preparing for all scenarios, encapsulating this in describing the old saying that the army is “90% boredom, 10% panic.” This equally applies in agriculture, where routine is often disrupted by moments of ‘crises be that machinery, weather, animal or all three at once. Developing team capabilities to maintain composure and make sound decisions is crucial for navigating challenging periods.

Leadership, in Chris’ view, is about generating momentum and forging connections with team members beyond conventional reward or punishment systems. It involves a shared understanding and agreement on vision, process, and progress. Though focusing on tackling things that are the most difficult can be demanding and time-consuming, they often yield more lasting success.

Chris’s “Understand – Simplify – Solve” mantra is an effective strategy for addressing the intricacies of modern farming. Breaking challenges into comprehensible parts, simplifying them, and then solving them enables teams to achieve practical outcomes. His advocacy for evolution over revolution in managing change is particularly relevant in agriculture’s rapidly shifting landscape. Evolution signifies controlled, adaptive change but can still be done at pace, contrasting with revolution, which is often abrupt and imposed.

Agriculture faces unique challenges, including environmental concerns, the need for sustainable practices, and technology integration, just to name a few. Addressing these issues requires a shift from task-oriented to team-centric mindsets, emphasising the development and construction of teams.

Drawing on the concept of Rangatira – the Māori term for a leader – a person who weaves a group of people together – Chris highlights the importance of building cohesive teams. This involves unlocking the creative potential of team members to actively contribute and challenge business practices, aligning head, heart, and spirit. Contrary to some beliefs, mastering ‘soft skills’, which are critical even in elite military units like the SAS, is far from a sign of weakness. Understanding and connecting with people is at the heart of a leader’s craft. Ignoring these skills can expose a business to expensive and irreversible vulnerabilities.

As we face increasing generational diversity in the workforce, it is essential to remember that effective leadership transcends age barriers. Chris’ ideas about leadership are not just tips; they are a blueprint for success. They show us how to make teams that are not simply good at their jobs, but also quick to adapt and strong when facing challenges. Through engaging storytelling, Chris will share his incredible experiences, including the victories, challenges, lessons learned, and the rewards that come from building strong teams, all of which can benefit your business.

Going to the People Expo events is an investment in the future of your business and the sector. It is about changing the way we lead on the farm to create teams that are skilled and quick to adapt, ensuring collectively as a sector we are ready for anything the future delivers for us.

You can catch Chris Parsons at the DairyNZ & Dairy Women’s Network People Expo events this March.

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