The most powerful move you'll make is moving from the commander to the coach.

Written for MILK Magazine and originally published in the July/Aug 2022 issue.

It's fairly common for farmers never to retire. So common, in fact, that we seldom hear the phrase uttered when going through a transition plan. Yet deep down, we all know that no dairyman takes their cows into the grave.

Here is a typical example. For decades the senior generation was in full command and maybe are still the majority owners. It's their name on the checks and their name on the barn. Yet there is some unfinished business.

So what is the single most powerful way the owner and senior generation can place their final stamp on their dairy farm and cement their legacy? By moving from commander to coach.

There is a big difference between a commander and a coach.

The commander is at the center of the daily whirlwind. The commander sets the daily priorities, deals with problems, and puts out fires. While being the commander can be exciting, it's a young person's game that takes a lot of energy.

The coach has a large repository of knowledge. They have seen it and done it.


So what can a coach do better than a commander?
Develop others: This is the most important role

Coaches have knowledge and experience. These are all great coach characteristics. The senior generation can take some younger talent under their wing and spend time training and developing their talent. This can be everything from how to treat cattle to monitoring trends in production.

Senior generation coaches can also help onboard employees by giving them the farm tour and showing them the ropes. New employees often need a mentor whom they can ask questions of and who will help them learn their role. What better person than someone with knowledge and experience to pass on?

Keeper of the Flame

Over the years, the senior generation and owners created the farm's culture, values, and vision. Coaches help keep these values and vision alive while at the same time look ahead to possibilities. Because of their experience, coaches best understand what core principles made the dairy great and make sure these values endure.

We are big fans of family council meetings that are part business and part family events. These structured events keep the family and the business close while still creating boundaries between the two. Who better to facilitate and organize such an event than a senior coach?


So when is a good time to move into the coaching role?

While every dairy is unique, age 55 is usually a great time to start the coaching process. At this age, the next generation is probably ready for some additional responsibilities.

One dairyman was just thrilled with his new role as Coach. "I get to do all the fun stuff and leave the daily headaches for someone else." However, you view it, being a coach provides a lot of value. It provides room for the next generation to grow into leadership—all under the proud eyes of the seasoned dairy farm coach.

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