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Kelly Dobson, a Manitoba farmer and certified executive coach, leads the National Farm Leadership Program in partnership with Farm Management Canada. The eighth iteration of the program kicks off Jan. 29, 2024, and the deadline to apply for this cohort is January 26. “Each year, the program grows and adapts,” said Dobson. “How can we help people grow and change their behaviour so they’re able to do the things they need to do to get the results they want?”

The annual, 11-month program aims to improve the effectiveness and leadership skills of farmers and farm managers. It features a six-week virtual component as well as a three-day, in-person residency in Victoria, BC. These are followed with regular group and personal coaching, access to LeaderShift Connect and more. A variety of regional grants are available across the country to defray the registration fee of $11,990. This includes the Canada-Alberta Job Grant.

GrainsWest: Who should sign up for this program, and why?

Kelly Dobson: It’s open to farmers and people who work with or for farmers. They can be at any stage of their career. We’ve had people as young as 21, all the way to 72. They’re often people who are already successful, but they want to up their game. And they’re willing to take a hard look at how they’re showing up and how they might look at a different approach so they can get different results—long-term, sustainable, scalable performance.

We invite people to look at themselves. What about them has made them successful so far, and what about their behaviours undermines their success? We help them expand their capabilities over time.

We measure their performance, they develop a plan and we follow up with them every 90 days, plus they get one-on-one coaching every month. There’s a lot of support. We evaluate them along the way, qualitatively and quantitatively. It’s quite rigorous, because if you can measure it, you can manage for it. Most people think leader development is [about soft skills], and it’s absolutely not. We can now measure behaviour and correlate it to effectiveness and bottom-line business results. I don’t think people realize that.

GW: How do you approach leading this program?

KD: I support people to level up, so they can perform up to their full potential. Part of that is discovering just how much untapped potential they have.

It’s a developmental program where they put together a personal development plan. This is going to generate a performance improvement that’s measurable and quantifiable. We track and measure their performance throughout the program. It’s not a program about everyone trying to be more like me. There are lots of programs like that: “If you do it like I do, you’ll be successful.” They’re not you.

GW: The program is tailored to the needs of each participant?

KD: Absolutely. When they come into the program, each person gets a right-fit, right-now conversation. What’s going on for you right now, and what would you like to be different? We do activities as a group, but it’s always back to where you are now and what do you need to do. It’s highly individualized. It’s all about their personal performance and how they want to show up differently.

GW: What can participants expect from the online learning sessions?

KD: We start with six weeks of online learning. We meet Wednesday mornings for about an hour and a half, and we lay out the basics. People get comfortable with each other. Part of it is an assessment of their current performance and behaviour. We give them some maps around how they’re organizing themselves. In other words, what’s behind their behaviour? And then the shift is trying to understand the people and relationships around them. How do those human systems function, and how can those be highly productive?

GW: Do participants have revelations about the way they manage their operations?

KD: Once they see what’s happening, it’s “Wow.” And now they can’t unsee it. I call them coconut moments. It’s like the old TV shows where, bang, they get hit head with it.

Then there is a choice. Am I going to do anything about that? Those are increases in self-awareness and situational awareness. If you can’t know yourself and see what’s going on around you, there is no capacity to show up differently.

GW: And the three-day, in-person residency in Victoria?

KD: It has a couple of components. One is engagement—how I relate to other people. Now that I’m aware of what’s going on, how am I interacting with other people? Is that driving clarity, learning and partnership or am I contributing to drama, misdirection and a lack of clarity?

There’s another element we call body shift. This is about how we’re taking care of ourselves. For a lot of people, managing their reactivity under pressure is where all the benefits are gained.

Also, when they’ve been under pressure for long periods of time, they’ll commonly complain their back hurts, their neck hurts, they get stomach cramps. This is a connection to unmanaged stress and tension. They make those connections: “I’m really not managing myself the way I need to get the results I want.” You can train yourself and manage yourself to be far more resilient and to practice active resiliency skills throughout the growing season. It’s not just resiliency once the ground freezes. That’s a big deal with the farmers I coach. In a high-pressure business such as agriculture, when people take care of themselves when they’re most under pressure, that pretty much determines performance right there.

GW: It sounds like an overlap of management skills and lifestyle.

KD: Some people would say that has nothing to do with management. It has everything to do with it. The big focus in agriculture right now is business planning, financial management and farm transition. What we address is foundational to those elements. A person’s capacity to effectively execute on those areas is dependent on their development as a person first. I like to say, we help people become advisor-ready, so they can lead in these areas.

GW: How have participants responded?

KD: It’s literally been life changing for many of our clients and their businesses. Our goal is to help them achieve that. If you’re looking to level up, and you know that you’re capable of doing more, and being more, this is a great investment.

To apply for the National Farm Leadership Program, and for grant support information, visit


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