Leading a great team


3 min read

What is a leader? Leadership vs management What makes a good leader? Leadership styles Practising leadership Who else can help? Podcasts

Leaders on dairy farms are like company CEOs. They are most able to affect farm outcomes, from culture to staff retention, teamwork, production, and financial performance. Leading a team requires a shared vision and the trust of other team members. People who inspire trust are those whose actions are consistent with their words, have high ethical standards, and respect others.

What is a leader?

A leader can motivate others to work toward a shared goal so good leadership is the foundation of effective teams.

Leadership is learned behaviour; practising and improving your leadership skills can have a huge effect on the success of your business and the quality of relationships with your team. Strong and effective leadership helps businesses and people grow and move forward.

A lack of willingness to act as the leader of your business will make business growth and dealing with employees difficult and less enjoyable.

Leadership vs management

To understand leadership, it is useful to compare the differences with management. The following table provides high-level characteristics of both.

Management Leadership
Administers Innovates
Focuses on systems and structures Focuses on people
Maintains Develops
Relies on control Inspires trust
Has a short-range view Has a long-range perspective
Asks how and when Asks what and when
Has their eye on the bottom line Has their eye on the horizon
Does things right Does the right things

The differences are often characterised as leadership being about “doing the right things” and management “doing things right”. In larger organisations it may be possible to divide management roles and leadership roles, however, for the average NZ dairy farming operation, the manager will need to employ a combination of both leadership and managerial skills.

What makes a good leader?

There is a vast array of literature on the topic of leadership, so boiling it down is not easy. These five themes regularly come through:

  1. Inspiring a shared vision: Leaders visualise a positive future and enlist the efforts of others to achieve the future vision by appealing to their values, interests, hopes and dreams.
  2. Enabling others to act: Leaders foster cooperation in their team by building an environment of trust and they strengthen others by sharing information and power.
  3. Modelling the way: Leaders set an example for others by behaving in a way that is consistent with their stated values.
  4. Encouraging: Leaders recognise individual contributions and celebrate team accomplishments.
  5. Challenge the process: Leaders search for opportunities to change, grow, and improve upon the way that things are usually done.

When employees assess leaders, they look for leaders who “walk the talk”. Characteristics of leaders valued by others include:

  • Honesty: 90% of people value honesty in a leader above all other behaviours.
  • Forward-looking: People expect leaders to have a sense of direction with clarity and purpose.
  • Inspirational: A leader needs to communicate their vision and be energetic and positive about the future and how it will be achieved. This is not to be confused with charisma. Inspiring leadership can be achieved in a low-key, down-to-earth manner.
  • Competent: Leaders need to be competent in the technical aspects of their business, but still able to take the ‘helicopter view’ challenge the norm of the way things are done.

Leadership styles

There is no one leadership style that is appropriate for all situations. Successful leaders recognise that people are different and have diverse needs that may vary depending on what’s going on in their life. As a result, they can flex their style to meet the needs of the situation. Leadership styles include:

  • authoritative – being an authority on what needs to be done.
  • democratic – letting people have their say.
  • coaching – encouraging, supporting, developing team members.
  • affiliative – creates teams that get on well with a focus on relationships first.
  • pacesetting – expecting others to keep up with your pace.
  • coercive – giving orders.

Each style has its benefits and risks. For example, pacesetting and coercive styles can be effective at getting the job done in the short term but are strongly associated with negative emotions and subsequently negative results when overused.

Find out about your style business.govt.nz website.

Practising leadership on a dairy farm

Regardless of how long they have been a leader, all great leaders acknowledge that they are still practising – there is still room for improvement. Here are some ideas to guide your practise:

  • How’s your personal leadership? Make sure you are clear in your own aspirations and the path to get you there. Ensure your values and behaviours are well aligned and that this translates through to professionalism in the way you deal with others in and around your farm business.
  • Share your farm vision so your team knows what you’re trying to achieve. Being open, genuine, and honest helps people buy-in to what you are trying to achieve.
  • Consider how you structure roles, and terms and conditions on your farm to attract the people you need and get the best out of them.
  • Get to know your people and what makes them tick. Your business is also their vehicle for success – whatever success means for them. The more you can align their definition of success with the collective success of the business the more rewarding the relationship will be for all concerned.
  • Get your team involved in the day-to-day management and in problem-solving where you can – this creates buy-in and commitment.
  • Sharing leadership within the team, when appropriate, can help relieve the leader’s workload and develop leadership skills among the rest of the farm team, increasing motivation and job satisfaction. How can you empower team members to take this step?
  • Think about where you are spending your time. Are you spending enough time thinking about the big picture, getting to know the team, training them, encouraging them, and setting them up for success? Or are you too busy for that?
  • Breathe deeply and reflect – when things don’t go to plan, how has your leadership contributed to that? What will you do differently? And similarly, when things go well what can you learn?


Last updated: May 2024

Related content

Coaching and mentoring employees


2 min read

Career planning with employees


2 min read

Personal development and training


5 min read

Performance management


6 min read