You should be proud of what you do and have accomplished. It's only a problem when pride or an inflated ego get in the way of listening to others with an open mind and being willing to consider alternatives in order to continuously learn and grow as a person. One of the main things I learned from mid-career farm management programs like Texas A&M's The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers (TEPAP) and AAPEX (its alumni organization) is that the top managers are more actively exploring new ideas and more open to considering different points of view.
I have written several articles about peer advisory groups. Beside the fact that I think it is critical that members take ownership of the group and set priorities around the areas they are most concerned with, there is one complaint that has been brought up to me several times. In many cases there are members who are too proud to admit they have weaknesses or are not willing to open up to the possibility they could be doing better. Peer advisory groups are based on the principle that everyone, including the best and most successful, have both strengths and weaknesses, and could benefit from different perspectives. Having objective sets of eyes looking at how you're doing and getting alternatives on the table is a primary source of innovation. A friend of mine who has been in a peer group for 20 years says it is the best continuous management improvement program he has ever been in. During the current economic downturn in agriculture, this kind of help is more critical than ever.
The problem with being too guarded or not owning your weaknesses is that the group never moves past the networking and social interaction stage. The gentleman I mentioned above says in every meeting he hears something he doesn't like to hear, but needs to hear. It's merely a confirmation of the old saying "pride cometh before the fall." An effective peer group costs too much money and takes too much time to be wasted on a social event.
If you even think you have an issue or are doing the due diligence on trying something new, learn from other top operators' insights and experiences, both successes and failures. The point is to be proactive rather than reactive. Even when you're in a reactive mode, it is critical to be creative. We all see things through a filter of biases and previous experiences; just don't let yours create too many blind spots. That's one of the most important things a peer group is intended to help you overcome.
I have referenced the 5% rule in several articles. It basically says the most successful producers are only about 5% better than average in the key business performances areas; but, the cumulative and compounding effects amount to huge differences over time. Because the differences are not large in every area, they require continuous improvement to stay ahead of the pack. It is important to keep comparing yourself to the best in order to be successful and still grow after major economic downturns. As I said in my last article, I believe there will be major opportunities to add capital and human resources through mergers and acquisitions if the current situation continues for a few years, which could benefit both the acquirer and the acquiree. Getting input from members of a peer group can be very helpful in doing the due diligence relative to possible opportunities. This is true even for those who want to make the choice to become part of a more successful operation in order to survive and preserve equity. Again, it is a matter of not letting pride get in the way of doing what's best when there is a window of opportunity, even if it means seeking out an acquirer or merger partner.
Tom Peters, author of "In Search of Excellence" and "Thriving on Chaos" is often quoted as saying "If you think it isn't broke... you probably haven't looked hard enough."
Get excited about the opportunity to share, consider alternatives and ask questions. Leave your ego at the door; you might actually learn something. You're still in charge of your business, but always seek out other points of view. Don't take constructive criticism as a personal attack. You're an adult, not an adolescent.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Danny Klinefelter is an agricultural finance professor and economist with Texas AgriLIFE Extension and Texas A&M University. He also is the founder of the mid-career Texas A&M management course for executive farmers called TEPAP. Grains Pro subscribers can access all of his columns online using the News Search feature under News.
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