I grew up on a farm. We raised a variety of crops, had a fertilizer and seed business, and we raised hogs. For most of my growing up, our hog operation was pretty small, and feeding was done somewhat automatically. Feed was prepared every few days and loaded into feeders, and gravity fed the feed to the animals as they ate. While you didn’t want them to run out of food (we were trying to help them grow as fast as possible after all), it wasn’t an everyday task.
That changed in December of my senior year of high school when we put the first pigs into our new finishing barn. Soon this barn continually housed 450 hogs at various stages of growth. For a variety of reasons, there were no automatic feeders — which meant the hogs had to be fed twice a day, at about the same time, each day.
In the winter, when there was less to do, this wasn’t too big of a deal — you had to get out of the warm house and make it through the snow to feed, but there weren’t too many complicated tasks. However, during the busy seasons on the farm, it didn’t matter how busy you were, how far behind you were, or what other pressing on or off farm activities you faced; you had to feed the hogs twice a day, every day.
I’ve tried hard to never lose sight of this lesson because it’s critically important to all of us as leaders. We need to be completely clear on the tasks that must be done, regardless of anything else. During some points of the year we had more urgent tasks, and you have urgent tasks too — fires to put out, customers to respond to, etc. While there will always be more urgent tasks, and perhaps more interesting and exciting tasks, as leaders we must always remember those most important tasks — those critical to our overall success.
You’ve got to feed the hogs.
You likely don’t have hogs to feed, but you do have your equivalent — the tasks that maintain and grow your business and support your team’s core mission and, if neglected, will have a serious detrimental effect on your results.
As a leader you must know what your “hog feeding” tasks are, and you must help your team members know where theirs are too. And then you must always complete them.
On the farm, the hogs would get louder when they were hungry — it became hard to ignore. Unfortunately, we might not get these reminders.
As the leader, that is your job — to remind, to lead by example, and at all cost to make sure you are feeding your hogs.