Seed World

What’s the Best Way to Empower Employees? Delegation.

Delegation may appear easy, but it takes a great deal of restraint for a leader to empower their employees to make decisions and take action.

Building an effective team is one of the most challenging jobs in any business, agri-business included. It’s not just a question of finding the right staff, it’s training and trusting those people to take on the right roles within your business. As Malcolm Gladwell argues in his best-selling book, Tipping Point, “First get the right people on the bus, then give them the right seat.” For most leaders, hiring is the easier part. Effective delegation is another thing entirely. 

What makes an effective leader?

A good team starts with a good leader. 

To push their business forward, a leader needs strategic vision. Specifically, they should deliver a client-driven mindset, supported by business acumen and the demonstrated ability to strategically analyze multiple factors that lead to concise, creative business plans with attainable financial goals, says Courtney White, head of Human Resources, Agricultural Solutions, North America at BASF.

Additionally, an effective leader must be able to “navigate and understand market strategy, short and long-term product supply, forecasting, and profitability that yield a healthy balance between short-term operating results and long-term market share development,” he adds.

James Lemoine, associate professor and faculty director of the Center for Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness at the University at Buffalo School of Management in New York.

That’s not all, however. Arguably most importantly, they need to have the people skills to support their team. James Lemoine, an associate professor and faculty director of the Center for Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness at the University at Buffalo School of Management in New York, says the best leaders are generally conscientious, positive and trustworthy team-builders. 

“Great business managers tend to be people who pause and think things through, rather than just ‘going with their gut’ and trusting their intuition,” he says. “They are active planners, engaged listeners, and humble learners who never assume they know all they need to know.”

Sharing the load

No matter how competent and capable a leader, a business can’t succeed on one person’s skills alone. A true leader excels in building and empowering an effective team.

When it comes to delegating tasks to employees, White says a leader needs to understand what each of their team members is able to do well. That understanding that comes through consistent and verifiable demonstration, and consideration of each staff person’s unique priorities and personality.

“It is imperative to factor in [team members’] developmental needs, potential, and work preferences,” he says. 

Lemoine agrees. He says delegating tasks to employees requires thoughtful consideration of employees’ skillsets, strengths and weaknesses, not just the leader or leaders’ to-do list.

“Often when managers delegate tasks, the reason is simply to move some things off their own plate to free up time for other, more important tasks,” he says. “There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that logic — to a point — but if employees believe the only reason they’re being entrusted with responsibilities is to make their manager’s life easier, many of the benefits of delegation go unrealized.”

Once decisions about delegation are made, communication is key. 

“Once a match has been identified, it’s important to have alignment on ways of working, decision-making authority, responsibility, timelines, resource needs and success metrics associated with the task,” says White. “Beyond this, recurring open lines of communication ensure transparency and mutual, timely constructive feedback.”

White says delegation is also especially important not only when it comes to building new leaders, but also as a way of building company culture. 

“For new leaders, [delegation] represents managerial and organizational trust they can — and will — make the right decisions; supported by guiding values of creativity, openness, responsibility, and entrepreneurialism,” he says. “Further, it supports identification and development of potential, strengths, competencies, and capabilities. It is a visible demonstration of strategic prioritization meaning all leaders/employees know where to put their time, effort, and energy to accelerate business goals and objectives.” 

The most effective delegation occurs when leaders maintain an agile and flexible leadership style, White adds, allowing them to effectively coach employees to the degree needed. 

Lance Stockbrugger is a strong believer in leading by example. Stockbrugger is a chartered professional accountant who also owns and operates a 4,000-acre cereal and oilseed farm near Englefeld, Saskatchewan, with his brother and their families. Delegation is important, he says, but leadership also depends on an ‘everyone participates’ attitude.

“No task is below anyone working in the business,” he says. “When employees see that everyone contributes to the operation, they will be more willing to share in the tasks.”

He stresses that an attitude of pitching in needs to stay within reason, as a leader needs to focus primarily on decision-making and strategy over menial tasks. However, showing that they understand every part of the business and are willing to contribute to its success — no matter how dirty the job — should and typically does motivate employees and build team. 

He reiterates the importance of clear communication.

“Be very clear on instructions of what task you are requesting them to do. Sometimes written instructions can help make sure they are clear,” Stockbrugger says. “For example, a text message followed up with a verbal instruction gives them something to refer back to.”

Even a low-tech solution like a whiteboard list posted where every employee can see it can clarify expectations and provide guidance.

“Have tasks on there so that if someone has free time, they know there are tasks that can be completed,” he says. “It’s also just a good reminder of things that need to be done.”

Shared decision making

Elaine Froese is co-owner of Froese Family Farms. Her son, Ian, owns Boissevain Select Seeds, a family-owned seed conditioning and retail operation in Boissevain, Manitoba that was formed in 1971.

Elaine Froese is co-owner of Froese Family Farms.

Froese Family Farm’s mission is to provide the highest quality seed and expertise to farmers, both in the local area and beyond. Froese credits her husband’s collaborative management style and her son’s strong marketing skills with the continued success of the business. However, all five team members who run the operation — two family members, two full-time employees and one part-time employee ‚Äì are involved in decision making.

“Decisions are made collaboratively,” she says. “One of the triggers for many in farm culture is micromanagement, which we don’t like. We believe in teamwork and innovation, so we’re always creating new growth and products.”

Alongside running the farm, Froese is also a farm family coach who strongly believes in the management style of Peter Drucker, an Austrian-American management consultant, educator, and author whose writings contributed to the philosophical and practical foundations of modern management theory. She says there are three key factors Drucker outlined that she needs to know of her own team members ‚Äì and herself – and coaches clients to consider too:

  • Who are you: How do you behave? Are you coachable? Are you a lifelong learner? Do you have good character? Are you honest?
  • What do you stand for? What do you value and are your values aligned with what the team wants to accomplish?
  • How do you make decisions? Are you able to make decisions and see the work that needs to be done? Can you learn and train quickly? 

“We’ve had many employees over the years, and it really comes down to character and conflict resolution,” she says. “To be a good manager in the agribusiness industry I think circulates around culture, attitude, character, and behavior.”

Empowering New Leaders

It’s important to ensure that your company has staff who are motivated and want to come to work every day, Stockbrugger stresses. Those staff need to be selected, trained and trusted to handle work as independently as possible, both for the good of the company and the satisfaction of team members. 

“Higher management tasks and attention to details are becoming ever more important as costs escalate. We need to make sure that upper management can spend the proper amount of time running the business and have the staff members working independently with minimal supervision,” he says. “This takes time to achieve, but once everyone understands that the contribution they make leads to the success of the business, the business will be more profitable, safer, and more enjoyable to be a part of.”

Leadership is mostly what many call tacit knowledge — a skill that is difficult to learn from a book or video, Lemoine says. While watching great leaders can be a solid way to learn how to successfully manage teams and organizations, the best way to learn is acting as a leader yourself. That allows new leaders the chance to try to motivate and inspire teammates, develop others and facilitate important projects and decisions. 

“Delegation is a way to ease your employees into leadership roles, to give them experience through which you can coach or mentor them,” Lemoine says. 

“There’s a reason, for instance, that the transition from Steve Jobs to Tim Cook at Apple was so successful. In large part it was because Jobs was willing to delegate responsibility to Cook and work with him to build the skills he needed to eventually take the reins.”