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Welcome to the home of the Modern Farm Business® podcast, hosted weekly by Dean Heffta. Modern Farm Business translates proven methods and best practices from the business arena to today's modern farm leadership environment. We'll be learning from forward-thinking experts and discovering how to apply time-tested techniques to make real improvements on the farm.

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Aug 2, 2018


As the owner of a farm or other small business, you’ll inevitably wrestle with decisions and responsibilities that others in the operation simply don’t face. However, leading your business doesn’t have to feel like a solo adventure. You can assemble a team to help you realize your vision—that group of people you want sitting around the campfire talking about your business.

The campfire is a powerful image. For me it means openness, friendship and candor. We sit around a campfire with people we trust, and we have conversations around that fire which are far deeper than the series of pleasantries that occupies our busy week. Think about who you might put in a group like this, either for your business or maybe even self-development.

Do you ever think:
“I wish I had someone else’s experience I could lean on right now.”
“I just don’t have the expertise I need in this area to feel confident.”
“I’d like to have people around who can challenge me to improve.”

Certainly you’ve had people in your life who have been coaches, guides or mentors to you—usually in a pretty informal way. But what if you had a group of people you specifically picked to be advisors to help you raise your game? What would it mean for you or your business if those seats around the campfire were filled with people looking at your situation, asking tough questions and sharing things that they’ve experienced?


In Philadelphia in 1727, Ben Franklin organized what he called a Junto. It was a group of 12 people with the purpose of mutual improvement. By design, they all had diverse backgrounds but shared a curiosity and a passion to improve themselves, their community and each other. They would meet Friday evenings to share perspectives and debate topics.

In the 1920’s, Napoleon Hill created what he called Mastermind Groups. These are groups of 8 to 12 who come together to help each other solve problems and give advice. The groups can be created to focus on the success of one person, or they can be designed to bolster the success of each member. The gatherings are scheduled and structured, and the leadership rotates among the group.

The close cousin of these would be the farm peer groups that have become popular in the last decade. The benefit of these is the shared industry and common experiences of its members—everyone “knows where you’re coming from.” There can be a challenge in that its members lack of diversity of perspective or do not have deep expertise in different areas to help provide guidance on key topics. Also, good facilitation and leadership is necessary to make sure they don’t just become social clubs.

A lighter approach could be an advisory team. These are people that we bring to the table specifically for their area of expertise. We might use them both as individual advisors as well as bringing them all together on occasion to give us a 360-degree perspective. They can lend not only their expertise but also what they see for trends in the industry or what other successful operations are doing; or they can assemble annually for a SWOT analysis (Strengths - Weaknesses - Opportunities - Threats) for the farm.

The most informal version is not about gathering all your advisors together, but rather proactively pursuing candid input from the people you trust. This goes beyond asking your tax person about tax advice or your agronomist for fertility recommendations—it’s seeking your advisors’ input about your business and your leadership ability, and expecting them to help you with your blind spots. This requires some intentionality.


Regardless of the approach, success depends on:

  • Humility and openness by everyone involved. It isn’t about being right, it’s about getting better.
  • The people involve must have the intention of helping others, not showing off or looking good.
  • To be at the table, there better be competency. Everyone needs to bring something of value.
  • Candor. Communication needs to be clear and honest. People must be comfortable sharing what they observe and what they think.


Think about what you want. Do you want to learn from other’s experiences? Do you want to get feedback about how you’re doing? Or maybe increase your accountability for accomplishing your goals? Whatever it is that you want, start there—then works backwards with different approaches that can get you what you want. Then get started on trying out what might work, keeping an eye on the outcome you want. It might not end up involving any kind of a group, but the first-hand feedback may very well prove to become invaluable in your leadership journey.



Do you have any experience in any of these approaches—good or bad? I’d love to hear about them! Send me an email at

Thanks again for joining our session this week, and thank you to Water Street Solutions for this podcast. Farming is complex and full of uncertainty. Visit to find more resources for your farm business.