Farmers and hunters both spend their days working for food they will eat, but how they get their food is very different. Hunters search for food that they will soon eat. They eat what they kill today. Farmers plan, plant, watch over, and harvest at the appropriate time. Their work today shows up months later.
There are times to lead like a farmer and times to lead like a hunter. When leading like a hunter, leaders are quick and decisive. They learn by doing and they live with a convictional sense of urgency. When leading like a farmer, leaders evaluate, plant seeds for future change, and invest in cultivating the culture. But how do you know when to lead like a farmer and when to lead like a hunter?
In the book, The First 90 Days, Michael Watkins articulates that wise leaders evaluate the phase their organization is in and adjust their approach accordingly. The context should impact how a leader leads. According to Watkins, all organizations are in one of four phases:
- Start-up: the early phases of an organization
- Sustaining-success: the phase when an organization experiences growth
- Realignment: the phase where drift occurs because of added complexity
- Turnaround: the phase where the organization needs new direction
Watkins writes, “Start-ups and turnarounds call for hunters, people who can move fast and take chances. The skills that contribute to success in realignment and sustaining-success, by contrast, are more akin to farming than hunting…skilled farmers painstakingly cultivate awareness of the need for change.”
If you are in a large organization or ministry, there may be areas that require turnaround or startup leadership while other areas of the organization are sustaining-success or realignment.
But the bottom-line is the context should dictate how you lead, whether as a hunter or a farmer. If you find yourself in a start-up or turnaround phase, hunter leadership is required. You must move fast, be decisive, learn through action, and adjust quickly. If your context is more stable, then lead as a farmer. Actions will follow evaluation and alignment around the upcoming priorities.
When do you lead as a hunter and when do you lead as a farmer? It depends on your context.