Lessons from the Farm: Learn the Hacks

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I was very fortunate growing up working on the farm. Our tractors always had air conditioners. The A/C may not have always functioned perfectly, but the tractors were equipped.

They also had cabs. They may not sound like an important distinction, but it is. That means our tractors were relatively new. Emphasis on relatively.

But we had one tractor that would transition between what we called the farm and the ranch. It was a John Deere 4020, and it was a bear to start.

Until one day someone gave my dad a tip: as you try to start, turn the steering wheel. Guess what? It worked.

In fact, it worked on all of our John Deere tractors. As you turn the key, put your hand on the steering wheel, turn it left to right repeatedly, and it will crank a lot easier.

Hacks make life easier. But here’s the thing: hacks are never written into the original owner’s manual. Why? Because hacks develop out of necessity and frustration. Sometimes you develop it on your own (adapt and innovate), and sometimes an old farmer shares a tip.

That’s what the 3 Questions have become for me. They are a hack to help move student leaders (and adults) into an attitude of leadership.

Chances are you have a leadership hack or two in your arsenal as well. Or if you don’t, you know people around you who do. And that’s the beauty of what we do: we don’t have to do things alone.

My challenge to you today is to think about the thing that frustrates you on a regular basis, then think of someone in your life who might just have a hack for that situation. And ask.

You never know what information is out that there that might make things easier, until you ask.

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Lessons from the Farm: Overlap

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I started driving a tractor at a young age. Most kids of farmers do.

I cannot tell you how many hours I’ve spent on a tractor plowing a field. I’ve used chisels, sweeps, duck bills, and discs. I’ve started at sunrise and finished after dark, even spending some time running under the lights of the tractor.

Would you care to know the hardest part? Not overlapping too much.

There’s a balance to be had when you’re pulling a plow through a field. The goal is to turn the dirt over. Just how much or for what purpose varies, but the end goal is breaking the top layer and allowing soft, hopefully moist, dirt to come to the top.

If you don’t overlap where you were before, you leave dirt unturned. And it shows later.

If you overlap too much, you waste time. I mean, think about it. When you’re working in a field that is 1 mile by 1 mile, doubling up on 2 feet every 40 feet adds up.

Overlap is a delicate balance to have.

The same is true in leadership. There are some things worth doubling over: key concepts, values, strategies, motivation. Each of these can get lost in the hustle of everyday. Diligence, however, demands vigilance.

Excessive repetition, however, does the opposite. It means you’re spending more time, energy, fuel, and resources than necessary.

Not overlapping has a similar result: you skip the things that keep you centered as you lead, and later on those “skips” are noticeable. You may cover more ground, but the price is too high. 

Proper consistent overlap doesn’t happen on accident. It takes diligence. It takes intentionality. It takes focus. But in the end, the efficiency is remarkable.

What falls into your overlap? What do you need to continue covering? What do you need to avoid repeating? What do you need to make certain you don’t skip?

Lessons from the Farm: Build Around the Water

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Somewhere before or after my senior year of high school (I forget which), we underwent a major construction project on the farm. We tore down our existing corrals (part of which had been there for nearly 100 years!) and built a new set.

This was my largest construction project to date, and it only included pipe and oil field cable. But it was something my dad had been planning for a while.

As we built, obviously my dad knew how he wanted the layout. Do you care to guess what we built around?

It wasn’t the new loading chute, though that was part of our plan.

It wasn’t the new sorting lane, though that was part of our plan.

It wasn’t the new crowding pin, though that was part of our plan.

It was water.

Everything else could have been built anywhere on the place. Our water supply, however, was in a specific place. So we built the new corrals around our water tank.

I’m going to confess something. This COVID19 interruption has thrown me for a loop. It’s taken everything I’ve spent the last 12 months to establish (my 1 year anniversary was the last Sunday we met in person), and taken it to the ground.

I value routine. That’s part of why I’ve been able to blog so consistently for 3+ years. It’s part of my rhythm. But what happens when my rhythm gets challenged? What happens when you level the old corrals and start new?

You build around the water.

Months ago I spent some time adding some structure to the direction I want the ministry I lead to head. We rolled out a new logo in January that represents that new direction. And in the middle of this, that new direction is what has kept me grounded. That direction, or purpose, or vision, or whatever you want to call it, has been my water.

What’s your water? What are you building around in this time of shifting? Do you need to take some time to determine what your water is?

Stay faithful to what’s important today, and let the rest build on itself.

Lessons from the Farm: Adapt and Innovate

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My dad is my hero. Part of why I value my time growing up working on the farm is all of the time I got to spend with him along the way.

For some reason, there’s one conversation that has stuck in my mind for close to 20 years. It’s seemingly insignificant, but I can’t shake it.

We had just finished building a new set of corrals (quite a feat in itself). As we were talking about how to finish it, or maybe after we had used them a few times, he told me he had an idea for a sorting gate. It took the concept of a calf feeder (which probably won’t mean much to you), and combined it with a gate, to create a sorting gate.

Let me give the simple version: this sorting gate would allow small calves to “sneak” through the gate, while keeping their momma’s from doing the same thing.

My mind was blown. I never would have considered something like that. The innovation was remarkable in my mind. And I think that’s what has stuck with me more than anything from that conversation.

My dad has an ability to look at a situation and see an opportunity. And that inspires me to do the same.

So much of leadership is trying to make the most of the situations in front of us. One of my favorite trips at my previous church was our leadership trip. It was a hybrid trip where I loaded student leaders into a car and drove them to 4-5 people who would share leadership ideas with them. I wanted these students to get a conference experience in an area where there were no conferences. So we built our own.

If we’re serious about expanding our leadership influence, we have to learn to adapt and innovate. I’m not looking to turn the world upside down. But I am looking to make the most of the time I have now.

In the midst of COVID19 and online meetings, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. But we do need to adapt and innovate. Are you? How can I help?

Lessons from the Farm: Efficiency Isn’t Flashy

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I started driving a tractor by myself around age 7, maybe 8. It’s not as dangerous as it may seem because I only went about 3.5 mph most of the time, and it’s difficult to do much damage at that high rate of sloth-ness.

As I got older, I realized my time would seemingly go faster if I cut the work into smaller chunks. I mean it makes sense, right? This is what we’re taught throughout our life–if you have a goal, break it down to tackle it.

I remember one time in particular, I broke a section of plowing into three parts. I was constantly turning and turning around, and as a result, it felt like time was passing faster.

The problem: I was actually being less effective.

Every minute spent with the plow out of the ground, or re-plowing ground that had already been plowed was a waste not only of time, but of fuel. Wasted time and wasted fuel means wasted money.

Efficiency isn’t always flashy. It was fun to constantly make turns, to raise and lower the plow. It was more mentally engaging. But at the end of the day, it was a waste.

The same is true for your leadership. Efficiency isn’t always flashy. There is something you’re doing right now that could either 1) be accomplished better by someone else or 2) be finished faster if you spent less time with the plow out of the ground.

Maybe it’s how you plan for events, or the way you train those you lead.

Maybe you’re lack of efficiency is in doing something you’re actually not good at doing.

For me, it’s graphic design. I enjoy the mental challenge of design, but it tends to be a black hole in my schedule. I can create something simple and effective in 5-10 minutes, and then spend 3 hours adding subtle differences that I find fascinating, but most people will never notice.

So efficiency means limiting the time I allow myself to spend on it, or even trusting someone else to do it completely. It’s exciting to try 7 different shades of a color. It’s mundane to move on.

So the question becomes: Are you willing to endure the mundane to increase efficiency? What do you need to cut or limit (or bring someone alongside) to maximize your gifting? What are you waiting for?

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