Learn and Unlearn to Become a Better Leader

( Taylor Leach - Canva )

If we’ve learned anything throughout 2020, it’s that in order to survive these crazy times, we have to learn how to adapt. This especially holds true for those who hold leadership positions on today’s agricultural operations.

If you are one of the leaders on your farm, the COVID-19 pandemic has probably created feelings of uncertainty and fear throughout your operation, and employees are most likely looking to you for guidance. According to the Harvard Business Review, one all-too-common misconception of good leadership is that a leader must be steady and unrelenting in staying the course. Though steadiness is required during these times, it is wrong to think that the work of the leader is to set a course and stick to it. 

So, what can you do to keep up or even get ahead as a manager or leader today? According to Holly Green, the CEO and managing director of The Human Factor, Inc., it’s important to set your focus on continual learning. 

“There are almost no jobs left that will remain the same over time,” Green said during a recent Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin podcast. “Leaders and managers that are successful today are constantly learning and unlearning to develop themselves.”

During the podcast Green offered up several tips and tricks to help leaders learn new skills that will assist them when leading through tough times.


When it comes to learning new skills to become a better leader, Green recommends implementing these characteristics into your everyday routine:

Become observant and flexible. Some of the best leaders today consider multiple perspectives from others to generate general guidelines that help them make sense of what is going on around them.

Distill complexity. Successful leaders are self-aware. They are constantly working to become more aware of their own intentions as well as their impact on others. They admit their mistakes and work to learn from them. 

Be specific, direct and candid. Top leaders make sure to expose any agenda they have and use good listening skills to really hear what others have to say rather than simply planning their next response and pretending to listen.

Think strategically. During trying times, it is important to see, understand and appreciate the current state as well as other possibilities, opportunities and alternatives.

Focus on the long-term. Respected leaders operate from a broad, long-term perspective and don’t focus on short-term implications. They are able to gather diverse information and make decisions in a timely manner.

Action oriented. Top leaders are action orientated and get the right things done. Making timely decisions and moving forward in an intentional way.


One of the greatest characteristics of leaders today requires them to not only learn new skills, but unlearn certain habits as well, according to Green

“Unlearning is about pausing periodically to think about what you are truly thinking about to gain awareness in what is driving you to your decision or action,” Green says. “To be able to slow down just enough and be able to think about whether or not you are just running down the same pathway or if you are balancing out your experiences with any new data or information.”

While this may sound difficult and complex, working to unlearn simply means slowing down for a few seconds to force yourself to evaluate how and why you are inclined to act in a certain manner. This helps you begin to tease apart the underlying behaviors and drivers of your actions, Green explains.

“To unlearn, we have to actually burst some of the beliefs and biases we have,” Green says. “To change things up is counterintuitive to our brains. To burst your bubble, prompt yourself to ask ‘what if’ questions. ‘What if I’m wrong? What if there’s another perspective? What if things changed? What if this could be done differently now?’ These questions can have a big impact on your thinking and can help you become more intentional.”

Being an effective leader and manager is important for a successful business. With people and management techniques constantly evolving, it is just as important to continue learning as it is to continue unlearning, Green adds.

When managing others during challenging times, your leadership skills will be put to the test. Make it a priority now to sharpen these skills so you can better lead your team to brighter days ahead.