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Leading Through Change

Change is necessary to stay competitive, to have healthy transitions, and to achieve more. Strong leadership through change is critical.

“How many feel change is happening to you?” Stephanie Liska, CEO of Beck Ag, Inc. asked the audience at Iowa State University Extension’s recent Women in Ag Leadership Conference. “It’s uncomfortable.”

Liska is no stranger to change. Both her business and family’s farm have and continue to experience big transitions. It’s part of a healthy operation. Now, Liska uses what she’s learned in the process to help other leaders guide their teams. She’s especially passionate about helping farmers lead their families and employees.

To get started, farmers need to recognize the right time to change. That could mean diversifying the farm or transitioning to the next generation. By continually working on an S curve, as leaders, they can begin the next transition before progress from the last change has plateaued. Allowing the farming operation to get into a rut is dangerous. The business can’t stay on the competitive edge by doing everything the way it has always been done.

Vision for change

As the process begins, whoever is leading the change needs to have a vision, Liska says. To make sure the vision has laser beam clarity, a farmer should ask themselves questions. Are we getting the results we need? Where can we afford to do less? What else don’t I know that I need to be aware of? So what? Now what?

Being able to communicate the vision is important, but understanding the vision in detail is necessary before it can be shared with other people on the farm.

“Put your stake in the ground that everybody can look toward and grab on to,” Liska says.

Define the change

To continue forward, it is important that the specific change is clearly defined. Articulating the outcome of the change will let everyone know what it means for the farm.

“The emotions start to go aside as you begin to articulate the outcome of change,” she explains.

 “The transition of this farm will allow us to… Or, if we add one more team member, it will allow us to… Save money? Be efficient?” Liska continues with examples.

Defining the change for the farming operation will help team members define what it means for themselves as individuals. A strong leader should help everyone understand where their own success will come from as a result of the larger change.

“Put yourself in their shoes and take the first steps together,” Liska advises. “Guide your people through it.”

Guide the change

Even with a mapped-out process, change isn’t easy. Liska recommends using the Roller Coaster of Change to gauge where team members are at. After a change is announced, people may feel shocked, nostalgia, or even have feelings of loss. This is the appropriate time for a leader to come alongside and ask, “How are you feeling through this? What are you still struggling with?”


Eventually, everyone will come to a point of decision. It is important for a leader to remember, not everyone is going to come along, Liska says. If someone is stuck at the bottom of the Roller Coaster of Change, it is okay to ask, “Where are you at? Does this change still make sense for you?

“This is the hardest part.” Liska explains. A good leader will encourage family and employees to make the choice that is right for them personally. Someone who is forced into continuing will not contribute to the best of their ability and will keep the farm from progressing as it could.

Once people have committed to the vision for change, it is time to lead them through the next stages of the Roller Coaster. This includes focused exploration, problem solving, refining purpose, reattachment, and excitement.

When change has been adopted, a farm leader’s work isn’t done. It is time to begin the process again.

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