Courageous leadership: A look at present day leadership in New Zealand agriculture.

Executive Summary

This report is a look at leadership in agriculture in New Zealand.
The purpose of this research is to provide a context in which leadership exists in the agricultural sector today. If we can understand the present situation and the reasons that has shaped leadership in this way, then this will give us far greater insight into the structure, skills and psyche of the sector. Once this analysis has been completed, discussion can then be had regarding what kind of leaders the future will need.
When the current context is used as a framework to look at the structure that currently exists, a pathway can be plotted to achieve this new leadership, while avoiding mistakes made in the past based on who farmers are and how they choose leaders. This gives the sector the best chance at success, by momentarily looking back and then looking forward with the current constraints in mind.

“Leadership has changed and these days’ leadership is very much about how you can get the best out of your team and the people around you. Leadership in the old days- it was very much about ‘I’ll lead, you follow’. John key is a good example of this [new] kind of leader. People say he flip flops, but it’s not flip flopping at all. He’s very good at understanding that you have to take people with you and that’s the only way you can be an effective leader and so it’s very much about the most effective leadership style for today’s environment which is taking people with you and someone that leads from within rather than someone that leads from in front. We are a much more inclusive society today. In a small country like NZ, if you go out in front and try and lead, there’s always people that want to chop you down, so I think the leadership style matches our personality in many ways. We don’t like tall poppy’s and people that go out in front. We like people that lead from within.”
The research undertaken, and the resulting report, seeks to answer questions around leadership in New Zealand Agriculture. What do we have currently and why has this evolved? What are the things that are working and not working and what aspects of leadership, sector structure and knowledge/skills do we need for our industry to have the best chance at success? The ultimate discussion focuses around the opportunities

on how we achieve this leadership and strengthen our back bone industry of New Zealand. Agriculture needs to be made more resilient and economically viable enough to withstand any challenge it is likely to face in the future.

The key opportunities discussed are:

  • A collaborative sector through combining meat, dairy and Maori Agribusiness. This is imperative and it needs to happen from the farmers right through to governance. Collaboration will allow New Zealand agriculture to align its reputation and identity as closely as possible. This will require leadership we don’t currently have and policy that currently doesn’t exist.
  • Leaders are made either by becoming accidental leaders or seeking out higher governance roles. Both leadership beginnings will be required in the agricultural sector, with training and self-awareness to understand the limitations and insights of both.
  • Diversity of the leadership within the industry is imperative. That needs to include women, Maori and other ethnicities and younger leaders. This is not about gender equality; but different perspectives helping to enrich discussion and solution based leadership. The millennials could well be the key to looking at challenges we are yet to face, with renewed vigor and courage.
  • The leadership that is required for these challenges is different to leadership in its current form.
  • A radical change in how we sell our produce and who we sell it to is required, to attract a premium to allow farming in New Zealand to stay economically viable in the face of increased costs and regulation.

There is no doubt the agricultural sector needs strong, courageous, brave, skilled leaders with good judgement. Some of this currently exists, but a larger cross section of leaders with diverse perspectives need to display these attributes. If we have these ideas about the weaknesses in the sector, we can rectify these going forward. Training and leadership organizations will help this and there should be a larger focus on professional and personal development by leadership teams and potential leaders. However, the future challenges the industry is likely to face will help to cultivate strong and courageous leadership, and this leadership will prosper.

Had time permitted, ideally more leaders would have been interviewed to bring more depth of discussion and perspective. However, the research undertaken here can be built on at some stage. More research into leadership theory by Hogan, Marlow’s hierarchy of needs and different leadership styles would further develop this research. This topic would be worthy of a comprehensive thesis, as leadership is often talked about but rarely understood.

Courageous Leadership: A look at present day leadership in New Zealand Agriculture – Sarah Bell

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