Saturday, December 9, 2023

Polarised sector needs leaders who listen

Neal Wallace
Webinar hears of need to ‘break down silos’ in agri.
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The primary sector needs leaders with an ability to dismantle the silos prevalent in the food and fibre industry, a leadership webinar heard this week.

Emma Crutchley, an Otago farmer and farming leader, said to achieve that means making people feel they belong and that they are being listened to.

The food and fibre sector has faced six years of a lot of fast-paced change and part of the reason it has become polarised, she said, is that people do not feel they are being heard.

“Leadership as part of this is not how we lead change, but how we break down silos.”

That means creating an environment where farmers feel free to talk.

Around a kitchen table, she said farmers will speak frankly and honestly but less so at a field day.

The four-person panel also included KPMG global head of agribusiness Ian Proudfoot, manager of the Agri-Women’s Development Trust and farmer Lisa Sims and Haylee Putaranui, Fonterra’s director of Māori strategy.

Proudfoot said his organisation’s last Agribusiness Agenda report, Energising a World of Anxiety, identified a world in which issues are viewed in black and white.

By having this outlook, he said, opportunities are missed.

He said the world needs people to lead by their actions, regardless of how small, to make change and improve the lives of others.

Community catchment groups are an example of people organising themselves to perform a role that is needed and will made a difference.

Proudfoot said the cost of employing people is only going to increase and the approach of employers needs to change to reflect that.

“We need to move beyond being an employer to one that takes people to a new level in their lives.”

He is confident there are capable young people wanting to leadership roles and to make agriculture a sector of choice, but the path to the top is not always defined.

Today’s markets need responses that would benefit from a young person’s perspective, but that requires existing leaders to be flexible and share the role, he said.

“We have fantastic people wanting a role taking the sector forward.”

Sims said leadership starts with yourself and is about action and behaviour, not a position or title.

“There are huge issues but by taking small steps each day, you move forward and will not be overwhelmed.”

Putaranui said employers need to acknowledge future employees are different and they need to create a feeling of belonging.

Asked where investment should be made to achieve the most for the sector, Proudfoot said in extending the sector’s foresight capability, Putaranui in acknowledging people’s differences and Sims in acknowledging the strength and weaknesses of humans.

Asked about her vision, Crutchley said if any country has a positive future, it is New Zealand.

To utilise that potential, the focus has to be on people – while accepting their efforts will not always succeed and solutions will require compromise.

“Change happens in the middle and we need people in the middle. That is how we will break down the silos.”

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