Of Turkey Farmers and Businessmen

[This was originally written in 2015 and was resurfaced by a friend a few weeks ago. I'm reposting since it has a terrible photo of me and the content is still true.]

Several weeks ago I read the following (abbreviated) photo caption (by Sid Krommenhoek) regarding a recent visit to a salami production plant:

great principles in business transcend industry & in fact i find it enlightening to learn from those in a non-tech field.

Sid’s words resonated with me because I’ve spent the better part of the last six months working on a turkey farm in northern Mexico. I’ve been an active participant (a farmer in training, if you will) in the process of raising and processing turkeys. It was an unexpected career decision, to be sure. However, it has been one of the most gratifying, enlightening and liberating experiences I’m certain I’ll ever have.

My perception of the word “work” has been refined and, therefore, enhanced. I applaud and deeply respect all those involved in the business of farming. With that said, I want to augment Sid’s statement by sharing 10 truths I’ve learned, or been reminded of, while working with loyal employees, exceptional managers and, quite simply, some of the most hardworking individuals I know:

  1. People are a farm’s greatest asset.
  2. Treating employees (and all people, for that matter) with dignity should be the rule, never the exception; trust and loyalty ensue.
  3. Company culture (good or bad) begins with and is maintained by those leading the company, primarily the CEO.
  4. Transparency builds trust. Where transparency is lacking, rumors will surely fill the void and breed distrust.
  5. A clear, frequently “evangelized”, vision and mission provide clarity and direction in good times and bad.
  6. Great leaders humbly acknowledge their weaknesses and tirelessly strive to build a team that complements them.
  7. Great leaders don’t expect from others what they won’t do themselves.
  8. Great leaders want to win with their employees, not at their expense.
  9. A job title does not a great leader make.
  10. Great leaders recognize and nurture the potential they see in others.

None of these concepts are new. However, they are true whether you work at a startup, a salami plant, a turkey farm or a large corporation. If you don’t believe me, perhaps a few months on a farm will make you a believer too.