Plowing Field

Life is a Business – Chapter 22

A series of essays on the past, the present, and the future

Through the years at numerous meetings, seminars and conventions, I have heard a recurrent complaint from owners and senior managers: “No one will step up and take responsibility or ownership of the business…” Invariably, when I ask a few questions, it becomes obvious that the reason is that they never let anybody make decisions or perform critical tasks – they hoarded all authority for themselves. I have met these complainers who still buy the pencils and toilet paper at age 63 and have everyone in the organization bring the most menial decisions to them for approval. These same executives often talk of the grown children they have struggling with the same condition. The talking heads on TV spend 24 hours per day bloviating about the decline in America and how it’s this guy’s fault or that group’s fault and never get down to the root cause of our struggles – we have developed a sense that “someone needs to do something to fix this” vs. I need to do something to fix this!

Responsibility – Authority – Accountability is a stool that will not stand without all three legs in place. When you delegate only one or two of these, good people will fail or eventually leave your organization in frustration, due to a sense of helplessness. If you are a manager and/or a parent, take a look in the mirror and be honest with yourself – are you falling into this management trap? If you feel that you are the only one capable of making decisions or performing critical tasks and taking responsibility, then, the problem is you, not your spouse, children and employees!

I learned this lesson around age 13, when my Father, who had taught me to operate the big John Deere 4020 tractor, while sitting on the fender beside me, told me to stop the machine at the edge of the field after we had made the initial pass around the edges to define the work area. I thought I had done something wrong and a whipping was on the way, but he surprised me with: “Son, you’re ready…I need you to plow this field while I go work on something else…” It was one of the highlights of my youth – he trusted me to be responsible like a man. I knew he would inspect and hold me accountable, but I was determined to show him just how well I could perform. I plowed a beautiful field, washed the tractor and put it away before coming in for dinner after dark, floating on cloud nine. I made a mental note that day to be the kind of father and manager who knew when to “get off the tractor” and allow the young people I had trained to show me how well they could perform. Like Dad, I would also hold them accountable for the results. This is how our ancestors did it, out of necessity, but we baby boomers have tended to do too much for our children from cradle to grave, starting with homework in elementary school and ending up unhappily bailing them out over and over again as adults. I can say that a softened approach like my Father’s, worked well for me with my two children, who have achieved much in life already and only ask for my love, advice and attention (particularly for the grandchildren). Teaching independence and self-reliance is the greatest gift you can give young people, for it is the foundation for all other disciplines in life, both physical and spiritual. The best thing is – It’s Free!

Teach, Motivate & Reward Young People – Let Them Drive the Tractor!

You will love the results.

By Bill Hewgley