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Best of NAMA 2022

Many people believe that leadership styles are like personalities — with work they might improve, but most stay pretty consistent throughout life. During the course of my research and preparation for a new conference on sales management being offered by Purdue, I was surprised to learn that there is research to back up a personal theory I have developed over the course of my career: leadership styles can evolve as managers gain experience, knowledge, and position. While not the answer for every circumstance, here are a few common-sense tips I've learned on how these evolved leadership styles may impact those who lead agribusiness teams.


Great managers hire good people and let them do the job. I had an employee teach me this lesson early in my career. One day an employee came to me with an idea of some ways to sell more product. She wasn't thought of highly by her peers and had a reputation as being overly aggressive, probably arising from her first career in the military — she was trained to kill and wasn't afraid to!

I had serious doubts about her "big idea," but decided to trust her with resources to implement it. To my surprise, she got it done and was very successful. You can bet the next time she had an idea, I was ready to get out of her way! She was eventually promoted and her innate sales skills brought in a lot of business. Most people with great ideas never do anything with them, but a precious few will have the gumption to make things happen. Great managers support those people by recognizing that it's a manager's job to remove barriers and as a result, they are more successful themselves.


No matter how much managers believe they thank and compliment their people, they should do it ten times more. Great managers thank everyone constantly for their specific contributions. One particularly effective way to do this is to consistently introduce visitors to the team. This creates an opportunity to sing people's praises in front of them. When managers tell someone they are good, it means a lot. But if an employee hears someone outside the organization told they are good, it means twice as much.


Do this during the work day, not after hours. If it's during the day, people will KNOW that this celebration is an important part of organizational culture. I worked for a man who was excellent at this. Each time someone closed on a big deal, they got to choose a way to celebrate. The whole team was invited to go.

Over the course of my tenure the celebrations included going to a video arcade, sledding, going to a movie, countless steak dinners, racing go-carts, skiing, canoeing, professional massages, and paintball — yes, old guys and gals shooting at one another — great fun! This "investment" of time and money reaped dividends in sales that resulted from our higher motivation, but it also created a camaraderie that we all remember fondly.


A friend tells the story of how one of his managers chose to handle a delicate situation ... An employee occasionally had a mild hygiene problem. One week the team had a big project that required a few people to work late several nights in a row and the problem became very apparent.

Unsure of how to handle it, the manager assembled the group of 20 or so workers together for a meeting. He addressed the issue head on, by saying, "One of you has an odor problem, and you need to get it fixed." Everyone in the room thought they had a problem - except the person who stunk!

Managers will be most successful by individually telling problem employees what the negative behavior is and the customer implications for why it is concerning. If other steps are needed, then more formal approaches may be in order, but that's a good starting point.


Walking a mile in another person's moccasins is not easy. It requires self sacrifice and a genuine desire to see good things happen to other people. Great managers understand that by helping others along their road to success, they will benefit and improve, as well. It takes a conscious effort to resist the temptation to use power or authority to intervene, but the rewards and satisfaction are worth it. AM

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