top of page
  • ZISK

Lead vs. Do: Overcome the Challenges of Being A Working Manager

You have a difficult position. You direct team members to do work on the farm that you also end up doing. This “working manager” role is challenging, because the skills needed to supervise versus the ones needed to complete tasks are vastly different.

“Nearly every working manager is more competent and comfortable doing tasks,” says Bob Milligan, senior consultant at Dairy Strategies. “That makes it easy to avoid the people side. It is rational but not effective.”

Evaluate how you spend your time, suggests Wesley Tucker, University of Missouri Extension agricultural business specialist. Then align those with the three key principles of being the boss:

Your job is about getting things done through others.

You get paid for what your employees do not what you do.

You need your employees more than they need you.

Milligan and Tucker suggest these strategies to be an excellent leader.


If you make all the decisions for your team your employees do not develop confidence or decision-making skills, Milligan says.

“The better alternative is to help employees become better decision-makers,” he says. “Yes, you are busy, but developing the employee will ultimately save time and improve performance. Success requires the working manager to have the discipline to make the supervisory role a priority and to take the time to develop employees.”

Look for little learning moments, Tucker suggests. “If you will be doing something unique, grab an employee to expose them to the activity,” he says. “Show how to do something but also indicate its importance.”


People speak, think and feel, Milligan reminds. So, you must focus on developing interpersonal relationships with the employees.

“With people, the leader is much more successful when the employee is involved and excited, even passionate, about succeeding in their responsibilities,” he says. “This requires building a trusting relationship.”

Develop your listening, communication, support and appreciation skills.

“Trust is like a piggy bank,” Tucker adds. “There will come a time when every supervisor has to make withdrawals from the ‘trust piggy bank’ by correcting an employee or requiring them to do something unpleasant. Invest in the relationship by making deposits, so when the time comes your check doesn’t bounce.”


Practice and focus make perfect when supervising employees, Milligan says. Participate in training, either online or in person. Search for sessions that include the skills and behaviors mentioned above to develop a trusting relationship.


March 17, 2022



bottom of page