By Jim Whitt, Contributing Editor

In 1997, I was preparing to speak at a meeting that included a list of beef industry leaders. As part of the preparation, I faxed each of the participants a questionnaire to complete and fax back to me prior to the meeting. In some instances, I had to fax a participant back to clarify some of the responses. I had to do this several times with Ed Barrett, but we still had trouble getting on the same page. Finally, I just called him and said, “Ed, I think I understand why we’re struggling to communicate – I’m a former pen rider.”

Not to be outdone, Ed shot back, “Well, no wonder, so am I!”

Communication challenges are not unique to pen riders or feedyards. When interviewing prospective clients, I’ll ask them what their biggest problem is. The two most prevalent answers, regardless of what business they’re in, are communication or people. And communication is a people problem.

Here’s an exercise I’ve used many times in seminars to help put people problems in focus. I’ll ask each member of the audience to make three columns on a sheet of paper and label the columns with these headings: Total Control, No Control and Influence. I then ask them to make a list of things over which they have total control, things over which they have no control and things over which they have influence. Then I have them share their answers with the rest of the participants and record them on a flip chart.

With a group of cattle feeders, I can predict their answers with amazing accuracy. I start with the No Control list first. It never fails – the first two answers are the weather and the markets. I stop with those two answers and ask what they have total control over. Again, the answer is predictable — they all say, “myself.” When I ask what they wrote down in the Influence column, everyone agrees, “other people.”

I then ask the group, “What two things on our list do you spend 90 percent of your time worrying about?” They all smile and mutter in unison, “The weather and the markets.”

So, the next question is, why spend 90 percent of your time focused on things over which you have no control? Why not spend more time focused on what you can control and influence?

In the February 1997 issue of CALF News, Betty Jo Gigot shared insights from several industry leaders about their take on the upcoming year. Many of the opinions revolved around – you guessed it – the markets and the weather.

But Dick Farr offered this insight, “We need to provide a better work environment. Employees need a more stimulating environment with more responsibilities and better pay. We need to jump a couple of notches just like everyone else operating a business. It’s amazing what’s going on in the business world. We are a good-sized business and we need to run our companies that way. We can do a better job than what we’re doing.”

Fast forward to today and we can add things like the pandemic and dysfunctional supply chains to the list of things we have no control over, which makes the things we can control and influence even more important. Dick Farr’s observation is even more applicable today than it was in 1997.

“The feeding operations of the future that will survive and thrive in the 21st century will be those who understand that they are in the people business. And those who do it best will be the industry leaders of tomorrow.” I wrote that in my first column for CALF, which appeared in the July 1997 issue.

So, what should you focus on 2022? The only person you have total and absolute control over is you. You get to choose what you will focus on and where you spend time and energy. If you are in a leadership position, your most important task is to work on reaching your potential as a leader. The second-most important task is helping those in your charge reach their potential. Do that and your organization will be well on its way to reaching its full potential. It’s the same advice I gave you 25 years ago and it’s still true today.

E-mail comments to jim@purposeunlimited.com