A few years ago, my husband and I had the opportunity to realize a long-time vision. We purchased and moved to a rural area outside of Seattle to start our “hobby farm” dream.
Our property was five gorgeous acres and included a very neglected blueberry patch that was about half an acre, fruit trees, a beautiful 2-acre pasture, and fenced parcels for livestock under a tree canopy on the hill behind the house. Ideal and serene.
So on the side of my then Sr. Director role at a large healthcare system, I marched off with the innocent enthusiasm of a city-dwelling dog owner to create our farm dream experience.
I wasted no time, within 3 weeks of our arrival, we built a coop and purchased our first set of chicks, who would go on to provide our family with fresh eggs year-round. Then we added the goats.
What was going to be just one goat, turned into four Nigerian Dwarf Goats (a mom and three babies), and so began my steep learning curve in animal husbandry and in leadership.
Here are a few leadership lessons my new herd of goats taught me:
- You need to find mentors and a community who can help you become better at what you do. Let’s face it, we can’t always just figure it all out on our own. Well, you can, but the ability to be trained and mentored by goat experts made our transition to livestock ownership immensely more enjoyable and resulted in a healthier and happier herd. Besides, it was WAY faster and there were no goats harmed in my learning curve. As a leader, you need people who can help you, share their expertise, support your continual learning, and help you be the best leader possible.
- When there is misbehavior or bad attitudes in the herd, it may just be a symptom of needs unmet. Goats are notorious for finding trouble, escaping pens, and wreaking havoc in landscapes. But often, they were trying to get to something they felt they needed (i.e. a good place to scratch their back or a nutrient they lacked). The same is true of our teams – if they are not well cared for, they will push the fences and look for ways to be challenged or engaged.
- You will need to learn new skills to remain relevant. No one is just born knowing how and when to trim a goat’s hooves and the tricks to keep them still and steady so you can do so. There is a lot to learn, from providing medicines, symptom management, what things are safe or harmful for your herd, and how to keep them thriving with optimal health. The same thing is true with leadership. Workforces are changing, needs have shifted, and people matter. Make sure you stay on top of it so you can lead them well and support a healthy human experience.
- A goat is a goat. My old way of taking care of cats and dogs and the occasional rodent (hamster), is nothing like the needs of a goat. Your experience and skills may not directly transfer to the situation before you. Try treating a goat like a cat; you may have unhealthy animals and trouble to repair. Refer to point 3 if you need to understand its relation to leadership.
- Goats can’t be left alone and need challenges to survive. Goats don’t like to be alone. They are social and need companionship. A good goat breeder won’t let you buy just one. They are curious and need to be engaged and challenged with climbing structures, teeter totters, places to play, things to jump on, etc. This kind of engagement helps keep them loyal. Goats, like our teams, need a community. They need to belong. Have things that challenged them. Be checked on. Be protected. Especially if they are remote. Don’t let your team members just stand in the pasture somewhere without ensuring they have what they need to excel.
Farming and our season with goats and chickens changed me forever. Not just physically, mentally, and spiritually, but also gave me amazing, practical lessons in being a better leader.